-By Joshua Resnek
About 200 friends, former senate colleagues and family members crowded into the elegant and ornate Senate Reading Room last Thursday for the unveiling of the long awaited official portrait of former State Senate President Thomas Birmingham. Following a 30-minute speech, Birmingham pulled the slip cover from the oil painting to
the applause of everyone present. According to State Senate President Therese Murray, the portrait will hang with others very much like it in the Reading Room. The portrait is the result of seven years work by the artist
George Vick. Mr. Vick toiled over the work, refusing to use a photograph and requiring many long hours of
Birmingham seated in front of him in his studio.
The result is a modern looking historical portrait showing Birmingham to be the quintessential insider but also giving the feeling that he was a guy always looking beyond traditional boundaries. In addition, Vick included in the portrait the facial image of Horace Mann – a former State Senate President, the so-called father of public school education in America, and one of Birmingham’s heroes. Mann’s brilliant 1863 bronze statue by Emma Stebbins stands in front of the State House. Birmingham’s 1993 Education Reform Bill stands as his greatest accomplishment during his time as senate president.
The Mann image is something he sought in the portrait to connect him and his interest in public school education with that of Mann.
Birmingham said he was pleased to be back at the State House. He said it was pleasing to be referred to as “Mr. President.” Vick, the artist, said he had many long conversations with Birmingham when the former senate president was sitting for the portrait.
“I know a lot more about Milton and Teddy Roosevelt as a result of this portrait,” the artist joked. Birmingham, who grew up on Essex Street, was educated at Harvard College, and Harvard Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar. Today, he is a labor lawyer. He lives on Nichols Street.