A Return to the Tradition of Grand Master Portraits
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Travis Simpkins
Okay, so maybe “return” isn't the right word to use in all cases. Some Grand Lodges, like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have kept up the tradition of commissioning oil portraits of Grand Masters from the beginning. Other jurisdictions have always simply relied on photographs to commemorate and honor their leaders. Others still began with paintings and, for any variety of reasons, gradually let the practice fade away.
Over the past couple years, I've been happy to work with the Grand Lodge of New Jersey to help renew the tradition there. In early 2018, Roger B. Quintana was serving as Deputy Grand Master and was planning ahead for his upcoming term in the Grand East. He contacted me about the possibility of having an original oil painting made for his Grand Master portrait. He said that New Jersey had commissioned some oil paintings in the past, but that now the portraits were mostly just large photos. He wanted to return to displaying handmade artwork. We agreed on the details and I presented the completed painting to M.W. Quintana in April of 2018, on the day of his installation as Grand Master of Masons in New Jersey at the Grand Lodge's Annual Communication in Atlantic City. The portrait was well received and I was invited back again this year to present the oil painting I made of his successor, M.W. Gregory J. Scott. And if all goes according to plan, I hope to return to New Jersey for a third time in 2020.
Not all budgets are the same and some buildings just don't have the space to display large artwork. Beyond oil paintings, I've also had the pleasure of creating smaller charcoal drawings of Grand Masters for many jurisdictions. Some have gone to Grand Lodges for display, others now hang in the Mother Lodges of various Grand Masters, some are in private homes. Commemorating our leaders for posterity in an interesting and appropriate way is the important thing, regardless of artistic medium or ultimate destination.
Handmade portraits, conceived by a skilled artist, contain a humanness and a spark of life that can't quite be captured in any other way. Both timely and timeless, they offer a sense of history and tradition: a connection to the past, a vision of the present and a record for the future.
If any Grand Lodge officials, or anyone else for that matter, is looking to return to or begin a tradition of Grand Master portraits, please feel free to reach out to me.
Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ in Washington, DC. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.