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Another Governor Finds His Place On The Walls Of Michigan’s Capitol

Nov 14, 2017

Priscilla Croswell Grew stands next to the newly unveiled portrait of her great grandfather, Governor Charles Croswell.
Credit Cheyna Roth / MPRN

A new face will grace the walls of the State Capitol


Governor Charles Croswell is one of the twelve so-called “missing governors.”  Those are former governors that don’t have a portrait in the Capitol.  The Capitol Commission is working to create portraits for each of these former governors.  This is the second one. 

Croswell’s portrait was unveiled Monday during a ceremony. Croswell was Michigan’s 17th governor.  His time as governor was brief, from 1877 to 1880, but he was the first governor to serve in the current Capitol building.  He also wrote Michigan’s act to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and end slavery.

In a speech during the unveiling, Croswell’s great granddaughter, Priscilla Croswell Grew, commented on his dying wish that he be remembered as “faithful.” 

"That is how Governor Croswell humbly and simply wished us to remember him.  The most important thing to him was that we would know that he was ever faithful in the discharge of his duties and responsibilities of life.  This is the meaning of “faithful” in the sense of being dutiful, conscientious, being a man you can depend on no matter what befalls.  Governor Croswell’s wish came true, he was indeed remembered by those who mourned him as a faithful, dutiful man both in public and in private life in Adrian and in the State of Michigan."

Croswell Grew said she’s happy the Capitol is bringing the “missing governors” to the Capitol. 

“We’ve only had just the black and white photos of him,” she said.  “And having something in color, I think it somehow is going to you know really bring him more alive to people.”

Joshua Risner painted the portrait and made the frame.  Risner said he used time appropriate techniques to ensure the final creation was as authentic as possible.  That created a special challenge with the frame.  He had to apply materials like rabbit-skin glue and marble dust to a wooden frame. 

“And it actually is like an alchemy process because at the end as you get all these layers on the frame and then you apply the gold-leaf you do the final process which is burnishing and it melts the gold into the base of the frame,” he said. 

Risner worked on the frame consistently for a month.  The final effect is a wooden frame that looks like metal.  When it came to the painting itself, Risner only had a black and white drawing for reference.  So, he spoke to relatives of Croswell to figure out things like eye color and skin tone. 

“It takes a lot of – I feel like it takes years off my life sometimes,” Risner said of the process.

This is Risner’s second portrait for the Capitol, and he said the commission is currently deciding which governor to do next. 

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org