[Remarks by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse for the opening of the Portraits of the Governors of Maryland exhibit in the Governor's Reception Room, State House, 10 a.m., April 13, 1995]

Thank you Governor.

As archivists and historians it was a pleasure for us at the Maryland State Archives to be able to work on providing a context and a rationale for the display of portraits in this room.

If I may, Governor, I would like to borrow a theme from one of your favorite Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt. When you enter this room, as did all the governors whose portraits are on display here today, you enter the Arena. Here you present your programs, work with your cabinet, field questions from the press.

As we look around the room today we see some faces we have seen before and one we have not seen for some time. Until today they were but faces on the wall, or in the case of governor Agnew, a face in storage, with little but a brass plaque to explain who they were and why their portraits are in the State's Collection.

By bringing an order to their presence in this room and by deliberately being all inclusive, you call attention to the Arena that this room represents. By encircling this arena with your immediate predecessors, by providing a way in which visitors here, and on their computers at home or in the library, can learn who these people were, you are helping the public better understand that today's government is very much shaped by what each of these governors did as they entered the arena of public service.

In the frantic pace of today's world, images do carry more weight than words. People are more interested in a portrait of a governor than the policies and programs that printed volumes of public papers and pronouncements might reveal.

My first brush with international fame came in July of 1980 when the State Archives was asked to handle the distribution of the papers of Spiro T. Agnew. The State had paid $23,208.17 to publish 1200 two-volume sets of the public papers of Agnew, and then placed them in a warehouse out of sight where they remained unopened for five years. They had been compiled and edited to a high standard by Dr. Franklin Burdette and Dr. Jean Spencer. They were, and still are, a good reference work, faithfully reflecting the public face of the Agnew Administration, warts and all. We thought we had a goldmine on our hands and that, with all the interest over the removal of the portrait from this room the year before, orders would come flooding to our door.

I was quoted by name in The Baltimore Sun, the International Herald Tribune, and my hometown newspaper, the Toledo Ohio Blade as saying that the papers were selling like 'hot cakes,' but clearly the New York Times got to me after the initial euphoria. There I seemed to have said we were "lucky if we sell one set a week ..."

My second brush with fame came only a few weeks ago when the New York Times carried a photograph on the National news page of the Curator and myself in white gloves carefully dusting off Governor Agnew's portrait.

Does this preference for images mean there is little hope for history and the archives from which history is written?

I think not, although our task is much more difficult than it once was. Not only must archivists and historians be persuasive in writing and in person, they also must find ways of using images and sound bites to entice their audience to read, to listen, and to learn from the past.

For example, this exhibit, accompanied by brief biographies, is now a brochure for visitors and is accessible on the internet at the Maryland State Archives World Wide Web home page.

The business of government has been conducted in this very room since 1779. Think of the history it represents from the days of the Governor's council to the most recent sessions of the Cabinet and the Board of Public Works. Think of the lessons to be learned if only we could eavesdrop on the past.

To place as many past governors on the walls of this room as space permits, restores some of the loss of our understanding of the past. By placing them in a logical historical sequence and providing a brochure with their images and short biographies we can begin to catch a glimpse of an interesting past. We can begin to remember that the business of government is a process worthy of our time, and deserving of our attention.

Some of you may have noticed that for the past two days one newspaper has brought images of portraits on to the editorial page, including an unfinished portrait of President Roosevelt who died fifty years ago yesterday. If you look closely at the Agnew portrait you will see that it too may be unfinished. The artist intentionally or inadvertently left the perspective lines he had drawn to be certain the Governor's head was in proportion, and that he had captured the essence of his subject as he saw him.

Perhaps the paintings we have assembled here at Governor Glendening's request will encourage those who see them to look behind the images to the accomplishments and to the failures of the administrations they represent.

Perhaps we can, gain new perspective from the past, and finish in our own minds an accurate and instructive image of where we might be in the future.

Perhaps history can continue to be illuminating afterall, explaining to those who are enticed to listen that stepping into the arena of government is an act of courage that should be both remembered and serve as an inspiration to each new generation.

Thank you.

Return to Governor Glendening's Remarks

Exhibit of Portraits of the Governors of Maryland in the Governor's Reception Room


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