Rearrange and Change

Susan Walsh / AP Photo
President Barack Obama's Oval Office at the White House.

Obama's Oval Office gets history makeover

By Johanna Neuman
The Los Angeles Times
January 5, 2010

Given the plight of so many unemployed Americans, President Obama did not want to spend a lot of money on a lavish redecoration of the Oval Office.

But he did want to make it his own. So Obama asked California decorator Michael Smith to work with him to change the look of the Oval Office to better reflect his interests.

Now, the Associated Press has had a tour of the makeover. The changes are striking.

Obama opted to keep the Resolute desk that was a gift in 1880 from Queen Victoria, built from the timbers of the British ship Resolute and used by every president since Rutherford B. Hayes, except Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. And George Washington is still there, at least the likeness painted by Rembrandt Peale, as is the Frederic Remington sculpture "The Bronco Buster."

With history at his back, Obama has a framed program from the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. A bust of King replaced the one of Winston Churchill, returned to the British in what the White House insists, despite some offended sensibilities abroad, was a planned rotation.

Obama apparently has a passion for contemporary Native American art -- four pieces of pottery are now on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian. And it turns out he has a fascination with invention -- three mechanical devices are on the bookshelves, on loan from the National Museum of American History's patent collection: models for Samuel Morse's 1849 telegraph register, John Peer's 1874 gear-cutting machine and Henry Williams' 1877 feathering paddle wheel for steamboats.

In keeping with First Lady Michelle Obama's interest in healthy eating, a bowl of fresh apples sits on the coffee table, though the president apparently keeps a stash of M&Ms for visiting kids (of all ages?).

Gone are President Bush's Texas landscapes. In their place: more traditional Oval Office paintings including Frederick Childe Hassam's "The Avenue in the Rain," an Impressionist view of New York's flag-bedecked Fifth Avenue, and Norman Rockwell's colorful "Statue of Liberty."

Also gone: the decorative plates in Bush's Oval Office. Obama said plates just weren't his style.

National Museum of American History
Henry William's 1877 feathering paddle-wheel patent model.

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