Dan Brosz of the South Dakota State Historical Society remembers when he was a boy in Aberdeen and had the chance to shake the hand of Republican Gov. George S. Mickelson, who held office from 1987-1993.
“My hand was absolutely engulfed by his,” Brosz said. “He was a big man and he had very large hands.”
Those same large hands, perhaps hinting at effectiveness at getting things done, are one of the things Brosz likes about Richard R. Miller’s 1994 portrait of Mickelson that now hangs in the state Capitol in Pierre.
“These have been the top executives in the state, men of power in important positions, and their portraits reflect that,” says Brosz. “I think each governor had a say in how they wanted to be presented.”
Next to George S. Mickelson is one of Brosz’s favorites among the governor’s portraits because it gives a sense of what South Dakota is like – Richard R. Miller’s portrait of Republican Gov. Walter Dale Miller (1993-1995) standing on a bit of native grassland with the state Capitol sprouting in the distance and the Missouri River bluffs stretching away.
And down the hall is another of Brosz’s favorites, the bright outdoor portrait of Democratic Gov. Thomas Berry, (the “Cowboy Governor,” 1933-1937), As painted by Margaret Matson McIntosh, the portrait shows a smiling Tom Berry with a herd of cattle ranging over some West River ranch country on the hills behind him.
The truth is, Brosz has a lot of favorites among the governors’ portraits. He’s had a lot of reason to consider the virtues of each one because he spent much of his free time in recent months writing a chapbook for the South Dakota State Historical Society about them. “The Governors’ Portraits” sells for $6.50.
Brosz, the curator of collections for the South Dakota State Historical Society, did the research for the book in his free time, apart from his regular job. He said it required quite a lot of time spent poring over biographies and old newspaper articles about paintings, since the dates and even the artists’ names for some portraits have not always been noted in other sources of information about the portraits.
Brosz notes that the portraits are not all paintings. Republican governors William McMaster (1921-1925), Warren Green (1931-1933) and Merrill Sharpe (1943-1947) are represented by hand-colored photographs on cardboard done by the Miller Studio of Pierre in about the early 1960s; and Democratic Gov. Ralph Herseth (1959-1961) has a hand-colored photograph on cardboard done by Artz Camera Supply of Aberdeen.
Martyn Beeny, associate editor and marketing director for the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, said the chapbook is an inexpensive way for people who care about South Dakota to take away a part of state history, since many will want to pick up a copy after seeing the portraits on visits to the Capitol.
“It’s not just about the governors and the artists. You also get a sense of the state’s progress from statehood to Dennis Daugaard now,” Beeny said.
Brosz said what stands out to him in his research is how the same issues are perennial topics for the state’s top executives.
“One of the biggest issues for each one has been education, and that hasn’t changed,” Brosz said.
In addition each governor in South Dakota has been concerned about agriculture, and at least since Republican Gov. Joe Foss (1955-1959), each governor has been keenly interested in economic development.
Brosz’s book includes reproductions of each governor’s portrait and a brief biography.
A previous chapbook provided similar information on each first lady and the First Lady Inaugural Gowns exhibited in the state Capitol, Beeny said.