BUTTE - For years Mike Mansfield’s name hung on the federal courthouse in Butte, well, now, his image will hang in that courthouse as a Butte artist unveiled a portrait of Montana’s most famous Senator.
“It is absolutely beautiful, Mike did a wonderful job. It’s so realistic it doesn’t even look like a painting. It looks like he’s going to step up and come out and talk to us,” said Mansfield’s friend Jean Peterson who was there for the unveiling.
Butte Artist Mike Hamblin was contracted to do the paint over a year ago and it was both a challenge and an honor to do it.
“I’ve been wanting to do a painting like this my entire life and that’s the truth,” said Hamblin.
Working off an old black and white photo of Mansfield, Hamblin spent the next eight months bringing his portrait to life. That meant starting with the eyes.
“Ten out of ten people when they look at anything like this, they go right for the eye, and you might not even realize it, but that’s what we do and so any painting I do that involved people, my focal point is right here,” said Hamblin.
The portrait of the courthouse’s namesake is part of a multi-million dollar renovation project at the Butte courthouse that opened in 1904.
“This courthouse is very significant and the courtroom in particular because of the history in holds in Montana and being the oldest federal courthouse in Montana, we just have a lot of stories and history,” said Shannon Sanderson-Moyle, the management analyst for U.S. Courts.
This courthouse is the site of many extraordinary events, including the trial of bootlegger John O’Leary, who during his trial, pulled out a .32 automatic pistol and fired several shots in this very courtroom. You can still see where one of the bullets struck the bench just missing the judge by inches.
Hamblin said he hopes Mansfield, who died in 2001, would appreciate this portrait if he could see it today.
“When I paint things like this, I want to paint them in a way that if they were to stand there they would be humbled and honored and say, ‘yeah, you got me on my best day,’” the artist said.