Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Putting Gov. Guinn on the throne, wink wink

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CARSON CITY - You could say Adam Baker is really ticked off over not being selected to paint the official portrait of Gov. Kenny Guinn that will hang in the state Capitol.

Actually, there's another expression to describe Baker's feelings, although it's one not usually printed in family newspapers. But after you learn what Baker did with the portrait of Guinn that he painted despite not getting the commission, maybe the phrase will come to you.

In a personal protest, Baker has lugged his Guinn portrait to the 48 state capitols in the continental United States - to take photos of it in front of restroom urinals or resting atop toilets.

Consider it Baker's way of putting the governor on the throne, so to speak.

"I could never resist a good practical joke," said the 42-year-old Baker, a Carson City barber who took up painting eight years ago.

This was a $4,000 joke three years in the making. After a 2003 newspaper story mentioned that he would like to paint the governor, Baker got a call from the governor's office to talk with Guinn.

He met with the governor, took some photos and, under the mistaken impression that he had won the commission, painted a portrait.

Only then was he told, Baker says, that there would be a competition to determine which artist would paint Guinn's official portrait.

Baker was one of 38 artists who applied. He was not chosen by the selection committee.

"To rub salt in the wound, not one Nevada artist got a shot," he said, noting that none of the Nevadans who entered the competition was a finalist.

After the selection panel narrowed the field to three, Guinn and his wife, Dema, picked Michele Rushworth, an artist from Sammamish, Wash., to paint the portrait that in January will take its place alongside other governors' portraits in the Capitol in Carson City.

Feeling he had been "jacked around" by the Guinn administration, Baker in June took his sample portrait into a men's restroom at the Capitol, placed it above a urinal and took photos of it.

Emboldened by the publicity that his stunt attracted, Baker decided to take it another step - actually, another 47 steps, soon to become 49 - further.

In a rented minivan, Baker went state to state in the West, traipsing into state capitol after state capitol, portrait under arm, looking for just the right white ceramic backdrop.

Along the way, to cut expenses, he slept in the van and ate peanut butter sandwiches. Then he returned home and bought a plane ticket to St. Louis, where he rented another minivan and covered the rest of the nation in his monthlong odyssey.

With several notable exceptions, things generally went smoothly. In Salt Lake City, the Utah Capitol was closed for renovations, so Baker had to settle for a portable toilet on the construction site. And guards initially would not allow him to enter the New Jersey Capitol carrying the painting. But when Baker said he needed to use the restroom, the guards relented.

When his flight home was overbooked and he agreed to delay his departure, Baker received a free round-trip airline ticket that he intends to use next week to visit Hawaii, where he will get state capitol urinal No. 49 under his belt. Then it will be off to Alaska to complete his strange journey.

Overall, Baker says the trip has cost him about $2,000 in gasoline and roughly another $2,000 in vehicle rentals and for the couple of nights that he spent in hotels to clean up.

That prompted Guinn's press secretary, Steve George, to quip that he wanted to know how much Baker charges for his haircuts.

"I don't know too many people who can do that," George said. "He's (Baker's) got a lot of time off."

Baker tried to get Guinn to autograph the painting on Nevada Day when he spotted the governor walking in front of the Capitol. Guinn refused, Baker said, and "was not very happy."

To George, Baker's antics with the painting reinforce the art judges' reason for rejecting it in the first place.

"His portrait wasn't very good," George said. "(Baker) obviously doesn't think it is very good by his own choice of where he wants to display his art. It speaks volumes of what he thinks of his own work."

In fact, Baker is rather proud of his work. When he wraps up his travels, Baker intends to raffle off the portrait and give the proceeds to the Nevada Legacy Corp., a respite care group that aids those caring for a family member with a disability or chronic illness.

He also intends to write a book called "Kenny's Big Adventure."

One thing that especially irks Baker is that, because an out-of-state artist is painting the portrait, the $20,000 that the Legislature authorized for the portrait and its framing will end up going outside Nevada.

For that reason, Baker believes Guinn should pick up the portrait's cost.

There's no word on what the governor thinks of Baker's idea.

Nevadans can hope only that Guinn does not decide to make his thoughts known in the same room that Baker has used for his protest.

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