WASHINGTON – President Bush honored recipients of the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts medal and the 2007 National Humanities Medal Thursday at the White House.
While gray skies and infinite rain showers surrounded the city,the president strolled into the chilly East Room for the official ceremony,arm-and-arm with first lady Laura Bush on one side and Vice president's Dick Cheney's wife,Lynne Cheney,on the other.
He was in high spirits at what he called a “joyous occasion” as he handed out 10 coaster-sized National Arts medals,designed by sculptor Robert Graham,for a lifetime of achievement in art,and 10 similar bronze medallions for humanities,recognizing those who have deepened the country's understanding of the humanities.
“Obviously,I'm pleased to be here with my wife,” the president said. “Our honorees represent the great strength and diversity of the American culture,have created some of the emblematic images of our time and helped nurture young talent. They've helped fill our libraries and museums and theaters with great works for all our citizens to enjoy.”
Bush was all smiles as a military aide read off the list of names,making small talk with winners,shaking hands and even leading an occasional round of applause.
Honorees ranged from the 73-year-old Native American Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday of Oklahoma “for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition,” to the 104-year-old New Yorker Roy Neuberger,who has invested in and traded art since the 1940s.
Painter Andrew Wyeth,musician Les Paul,renowned for electric guitar design,and Henry Z. Steinway,who led the piano making company his great-grandfather started,were also honored.
R. Craig Noel,92,the “father of San Diego theater” and the only living dean of America's regional theater movement was honored “for his decades of leadership as a pillar of American theater.”
Three women were honored with a National Humanities Medal. The University of Idaho Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival walked away with a National Medal of Arts for “preserving and promoting the uniquely American art of jazz.” The Monuments Men Foundation was recognized for helping to trace and preserve artworks seized by the Nazis during World War II.
The National Medal of Arts was established by Congress in 1984 to pay respects to artists and patrons of the arts. The president can award up to 12 medals each year to the artists of his choice.
The president must look for “individuals or groups who are deserving of special recognition of their outstanding contributions to the excellence,growth,support and availability of the arts in the United States,” according to the National Medal of Arts web site.
The National Medal of Arts is distinctive in that recipients can be from anywhere in the art realm and are not limited to certain fine-art themes.
The National Humanities Medal was instituted in 1997,replacing a previous award. Like the National Medal of Arts,the president can choose up to 12 recipients a year. The award acknowledges individuals or groups who have worked to make the humanities more comprehensible and available to the American public by broadening “our citizens' engagement with the humanities” its Web site says.
Mrs. Bush closed the ceremony before ushering the medalists and their families into the state dining room for drinks and hors d'oeuvres.
Addressing the winners,she said the event was possible “through your efforts,your building on the artistic and cultural traditions that define us as a nation,and that bring us together. Thank you for your dedication to your arts,your field of study and to our country.”