‘A special beacon for girls’: portrait unveiled for former Gov. Gina Raimondo
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stands in front of her official portrait commemorating her six years as governor of Rhode Island. She served from 2015 to 2021. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — Dressed in a white skirt suit, former Gov. Gina Raimondo smiles on a beach in Narragansett resting her hand firmly on a stone wall as the state and American flags fly in the breeze.
That’s how Rhode Island’s first female governor will forever look on a wall at the State House in her official portrait, which was unveiled in the Rhode Island capitol Thursday evening. It’s an image she hopes will encourage generations of women to also pursue their dreams.
Raimondo recalled all the school tour groups that would stop outside her office and what she would hear the guide tell students as they passed the portraits of the other 72 governors on display:
“‘As you can see there are no women on the wall, but one day when Gov. Raimondo is no longer the governor, there will be a woman on the wall,’” Raimondo said to thunderous applause inside of the State Room.
The guest list was a who’s who of Rhode Island politicians including Gov. Dan McKee, Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner, former U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, along with other local and state officials.
All inside the State Room were there both to congratulate the now-U.S. Secretary of Commerce for her service to Rhode Island, but to see the portrait done by Patricia Watwood, a Brooklyn-based painter whose subjects are primarily women and figures.
In an interview following the unveiling, Watwood said her intention for the portrait was to create something “light, energetic, and hopeful,” but also empowering.
Raimondo said that’s what appealed most to her about Watwood, who was among 350 applicants to paint the former governor.
“I wanted to pick somebody who could capture that hope and brightness and optimism and really be a beacon for all Rhode Islanders — a special beacon for girls,” Raimondo said during the ceremony.
In preparation for the portrait, Watwood said she toured the State House where she was in awe of the 1802 painting of George Washigton by Gilbert Stuart, along with the beauty of the 119-year old building.
“I was really a bit daunted by the pressure to make something that was worthy of this capitol,” she said.
Watwood also conducted two sittings with Raimondo, whom she said was “warm, inspiring, and friendly.”
The choice of doing an outdoor setting was to create even more of a contrast from other portraits, all of which are in dark interiors.
“And Rhode Island is the Ocean State,” Watwood said.
Watwood was paid $50,000 for her work, which she said took about a year to do. Costs were covered by Rhode Island NGA 2017, Inc. — a nonprofit created to pay for costs associated with the National Governors Association 2017 summer meeting in Providence.
“Yeah, it’s not cheap,” Raimondo said with a laugh as she left an impromptu press gaggle in the State Room.
Prior to the unveiling, Raimondo was praised by current and former state officials for her work as governor — highlighting reductions in unemployment, investments in public education, and helping guide Rhode Island during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of Secretary Raimondo, lives in Rhode Island were saved,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who served as director of the state’s Department of Health between 2015 and 2022.
Raimondo said in her remarks that while she’s pleased with political accomplishments, she’s even more proud of bringing change to Rhode Island after what she said were years of stagnation. Those changes included bringing new faces into state government — diverse faces.
“I hope that’s how I’ll be remembered,” she said. “A breath of fresh air; new ideas.”
But some have not forgotten the pension reforms Raimondo pushed through during her time as state treasurer. The shouts of protesters outside the room, upset over the lack of adequate cost of living adjustments, could be heard at the start of the ceremony during an introduction by McKee before the doors were closed.
Now the commerce secretary says there’s more work to do, especially as national politics becomes more polarized and existing civil rights remain uncertain.
“We must keep going,” she said. “If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble. If we do — this state will be better, this country will be better,” Raimondo said.
“It will be the land of opportunity for all and it will be a beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world,” she said.
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