Skip to main content

Former U.S. Army Sergeant Leslie Zimmerman began to appreciate Bush's painting of her when she learned his source was of her discussing depression and anxiety while serving as a medic.

Dave Chan

Leslie Zimmerman had just finished riding mountain bikes with George W. Bush for his 70th birthday when the former U.S. president pulled out his iPad. He had something he wanted to show the group of veterans he was celebrating with: portraits he had privately painted of them.

“I didn’t think it looked like me,” Ms. Zimmerman said. “At first.”

Opinion: Canadian War Museum displays 51 of George W. Bush’s propagandistic paintings

But she said she grew to appreciate it when she realized what the source of the painting was: a video Mr. Bush had watched of her explaining to an interviewer the depression and anxiety she went through after serving as a medic in the Iraq war.

Story continues below advertisement

“It was when I actually saw it in person, in the full size, that it hit me. He had captured the sadness that I had,” she said.

Former U.S. Army Sergeant Daniel (Danny) Casara wants museum visitors to think about those who have been wounded physically and mentally in war.

Dave Chan

Ms. Zimmerman’s portrait is one of 51 paintings by the former U.S. president that are on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in a travelling exhibition called Portraits of Courage. The display opens this weekend.

Mr. Bush served as the U.S. commander-in-chief from 2001 to 2009, overseeing the country’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and leading the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2012, he took up painting as a hobby. He began to portray veterans in 2015, and his portraits were soon turned into a book and an exhibition. This is the first time they are being displayed outside of the United States.

Mark O’Neill, president of the Canadian War Museum and the Museum of History, said it’s not Mr. Bush’s skill as a painter that got the canvases on the museum’s walls.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft funded the exhibit’s travel to Canada so that those beyond the United States could see portrayals of veterans such as Former U.S. Army Sergeant Saul Martinez.

Dave Chan

"We don't have this here for its aesthetic quality,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We basically use [the exhibit] to try to interpret what we think are interesting, universal common themes about military history and suffering loss."

Mr. O’Neill said the idea for the exhibition came when he ran into U.S. ambassador Kelly Craft at an after-work function. Ms. Craft, who will soon be leaving Canada after a year and a half if she’s approved by the U.S. Senate for a new post at the United Nations, funded the exhibit’s travel to Canada through her personal fortune. Ms. Craft’s husband, Joe Craft, is the president of one of the United States’ largest coal producers and the couple are prominent Republican Party donors.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. O’Neill compared the exhibit to others the War Museum has put on at the behest of diplomats in the nation’s capital. In 2008, the museum exhibited photographs of British prime minister Tony Blair deciding whether his country’s military should join the Iraq war, and in 2012, the museum presented photos from the Mexican revolution.

Daniel Casara, another portrait subject who was wounded by an anti-tank mine while serving in the Iraq war, said he hoped museum visitors could look past the politics of the man who made the paintings and think instead about those wounded physically and mentally in the conflicts.

These veterans want visitors to look beyond Bush and partisan beliefs so that they can empathize with those depicted, such as Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Goehner.

Dave Chan

“I hope they come here and look past the commander-in-chief piece and they look at the warriors and they read our stories and they see that we are just like them,” he said.

Mr. Casara said, like Ms. Zimmerman, he’s gotten to know Mr. Bush through golf games and charity bike rides and come to admire the Texan’s postpresidential pastimes.

“It’s difficult because it’s three days of gruelling cycling,” he said of the Bush Institute’s W100K bike rides. “And you’re trying to keep up with the president. You can’t pass the president. Even though we wanted to, we can’t pass him. He won’t let you because he’s really good. He’s a very good cyclist."

Editor’s note: Mark O'Neill is the president of the Canadian War Museum and the Museum of History. Due to an editing error, an earlier version referred to him by an incorrect title.

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter