First lady talks of Arkansas Governor's Mansion repairs, artwork plans

First lady Susan Hutchinson wants to obtain a collection of world-class paintings for public display in the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.

During a Governor's Mansion Commission meeting Wednesday, she discussed the paintings, as well as continued repairs to the mansion and other buildings on the mansion grounds, including the governor's private office and a guesthouse.

The first lady said the state is in the running for a two-year loan of paintings from Bob Jones University, her alma matter.

In a news release, the private South Carolina university said it is lending paintings during a two-year renovation of its museum and gallery. The university has more than 400 works from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

Major artists include Peter Paul Rubens, Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Lucas Cranach, Gerard David, Bartolome Murillo, Jusepe de Ribera, Anthony van Dyck and Gerard van Honthorst.

"These are the masters," the first lady said. "These are the originals."

If the mansion receives the paintings loan, she said her plan is to invite students from Arkansas to study the artwork. The mansion serves as a venue for public events.

"Students will come and study their technique and the lighting and the strokes and the color," she said. "It will be so educational for our students."

Don Bingham, mansion administrator, said the mansion had submitted a 27-page "informative inquiry" that detailed such things as venue temperature to security.

"This is something our state will be very, very proud of. It's very selective," he said. "Banks, hospitals and other universities have applied for some of the art, as well. I'm told we are at the top of the list because of our persistence."

During Wednesday's meeting, Susan Hutchinson also addressed ongoing maintenance at the mansion. The work is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the A̶r̶k̶a̶n̶s̶a̶s̶ ̶N̶a̶t̶u̶r̶a̶l̶ ̶R̶e̶s̶o̶u̶r̶c̶e̶s̶ ̶C̶o̶m̶m̶i̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.*

The governor's office -- which was stripped down to its studs so the interior could be sterilized, insulation replaced and a lingering smell of rats removed -- is substantially completed.

The areas above the ceilings and below the floors have been sealed to keep out any vermin, the first lady said.

The interior is blue to match draperies formerly used in the main house and which the governor is fond of, she said.

In the guesthouse -- where a reporter once observed a bowed-down ceiling and wires spilling out of a closet -- also has been renovated and the problems fixed.

Other problems -- such as the natural gas cutoff located in the gas fireplace -- have been fixed, the first lady said.

In the main house, an attic-mounted heating and ventilation system that did not have access to fresh air -- as required -- is now installed correctly.

Planned changes include raising the 7-foot ceiling in the basement family room, but ducts and pipes above the drop ceiling could make that impractical, Susan Hutchinson said.

"What's in there -- the cabinetwork, the ceilings, the carpet -- the very same was there the night Mr. Clinton was elected president," she said. "He was hanging out there in the basement, and we've got the pictures."

Stories from the archives of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette show that over the decades, state officials have often declared that the mansion suffers from neglect and maintenance problems, in part because the Legislature didn't appropriate enough money for upkeep and governors were reluctant to ask for it.

For example, in 1967, then-Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and the building's architect declared the mansion "unsafe for living." In 1972, then-first lady Betty Bumpers asked legislators to create a mansion commission to oversee maintenance of the home and grounds. At that time, she said there was no groundskeeper or regular maintenance staff.

In May 2015, the Legislature passed a so-called government efficiency bill that allowed the governor to remove mansion commissioners at will and eliminated a provision that the commission make rules concerning improvements and repairs to the mansion.

After passage of that commission-changing law, news articles detailed maintenance and repair problems at the mansion -- including in the governor's private office -- as well as disagreements that the first lady had with previous members of the commission over mansion decorations and furnishings. Four commissioners were replaced in June.

Metro on 05/11/2017

*CORRECTION: The Governor’s Mansion is funding repairs and maintenance work with a $1.1 million grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. A previous version of this article misidentified the source of the funds.

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