Thursday, February 17, 2011

RI's Gilbert Stuart and His Most Famous Portrait He Never Finished: "First Face: The Buck Starts Here"

Mark Twain is thought to have quipped, "If Washington should rise from the dead and not resemble the Stuart portrait, he would be judged an imposter."

Such is the legacy of the so-called Athenaeum portrait, and the subject of a new documentary by Jim Wolpaw, First Face: The Buck Starts Here. On several occasions in 1796, George Washington came to the Philadelphia home of the artist Gilbert Stuart (who was born in Rhode Island) to sit for a portrait. Those sittings produced what is, arguably, the most famous portrait ever created: the unfinished Athenaeum image of Washington that peers out from the dollar bill.

First Face: The Buck Starts Here considers the circumstances leading to the creation of Stuart's portrait, and its subsequent life as the defining image of Washington and, ultimately, as an enduring symbol of America. The half-hour documentary is driven by the ironic contrasts between the mercurial Stuart and the highly controlled Washington, as well as contrasts between Washington the man and Washington the myth.

WSBE Rhode Island PBS premieres First Face: The Buck Starts Here on Friday, February 18 at 10:30 p.m. The film airs in the regular Rhode Island Stories time slot of Saturday, February 19 at 7 p.m.  (re-broadcast Sunday, February 20 at 9 p.m.)

Also premiering on Sunday, February 20, at 9:30 p.m.,  is Jack Yena's Legacy: Finding A Sense of Place. The film is the third in a trilogy about the history of Johnson and Wales University by filmmaker Marian Gagnon. The story focuses on a new force of strength and the different style of leadership of Jack Yena, from 1989 through 2004. Yena took the institution's name recognition and its reputation as a career university to an international level. Yena also led the charge to establish campuses in North Miami, Denver, and Charlotte, giving Johnson and Wales University a "sense of place" for the first time since its founding.