George W. Bush is back on the canvas. On Tuesday, April 20, the former U.S. president, a self-described “simple painter,” unveiled 43 new portraits of inspiring immigrants at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” is a special, limited-time exhibit that includes portraits of sports stars, politicians, CEOs, and everyday heroes whom Bush painted to “remind us of the countless ways in which America has been strengthened by those who have come here in search of a better life,” he says in a statement. The exhibition coincides with the April 20 release of Bush’s new book, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants (Crown, $38).
One of the most recognizable faces to Dallasites will be Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who came to Dallas from Germany to play in the NBA in 1998. He reportedly began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen after he retired in 2019. His portrait appears on the cover of the book, and an accompanying story describes his journey:
As a 7 foot tall 20-year-old from Germany, Dirk Nowitzki arrived in Dallas and began learning the challenges that come with starting a new life in a foreign land — and about high expectations from basketball fans. But by the end of his career, Dirk was so beloved that the city named a street after him not because he’s one of best players in NBA history, but because of how much he’s given back to his adopted home.
Other notable subjects include former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright; golf star Annika Sorenstam; movie star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Austin-based professional runner Gilbert Tuhabonye; tech CEO Roya Mahboob; Ernst & Young talent leader Thear Suzuki; and Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya.
The title of the book and exhibition was inspired by the motto on the Great Seal of the United States, “E pluribus unum,” which means “out of many, one.”
“At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation,” Bush says in the book. “It says something about our country that people all around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to our country. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped us become the leader of the world.”
Both the book and the exhibit shine a positive light on immigrants (which some critics are calling ironic). They also foster discussion on the many issues surrounding the immigration debate in the United States — a topic that is particularly relevant as the Biden administration grapples with a swell of migrants at the Southern borders.
During an April 18 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Bush said one of his biggest disappointments as president was not passing meaningful immigration reform, and he called on Congress to tone down their “harsh rhetoric” on immigration.
Bush also penned a Washington Post op-ed both expressing his views on how to restore confidence in America’s immigration system and promoting the book — using a little of his characteristic, self-deprecating wit.
“Next week, I’m proud to publish a new collection of my paintings, entitled Out of Many, One. The book may not set the art world stirring — hopefully, the critics won’t call it ‘One Too Many,'” he writes. “I set out to accomplish two things: to share some portraits of immigrants, each with a remarkable story I try to tell, and to humanize the debate on immigration and reform.
“I hope that these faces, and the stories that accompany them, serve as a reminder that immigration isn’t just a part of our heritage. New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been.”
Bush’s project got a grand premiere Tuesday morning on NBC’s Today, where he and former first lady Laura Bush took part in a naturalization ceremony of U.S. citizens and then sat down for a chat with daughter and show host Jenna Bush Hager. His promotional blitz will also include an appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! on April 21.
“Out of Many, One” will be on view at the Bush Center through January 3, 2022. Timed tickets ($10) must be purchased online in advance; current hours are 10 am-3 pm Tuesday through Saturday only.
The permanent museum exhibit remains closed due to COVID-19 and open in a future reopening phase. Cafe 43 will be open for reservation-only dining at reduced capacity.
“Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” runs April 20, 2021-January 3, 2022 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, 2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas; bushcenter.org.