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St. Paul, Minn. — The oil-on-canvas painting shows Ventura outdoors, under a darkened sky, determined and purposeful. He's depicted in a dark suit, red-white-and-blue tie. Pinned to his lapel are his Navy SEAL team insignia and his Navy "jump wings."
Former First Lady Terry Ventura hosted the presentation ceremony in the Capitol rotunda. Speaking before the portrait was uncovered, Terry Ventura said the moment recalled the sense of opportunity and promise that she felt soon after her husband's surprising election in 1998.
"Standing up here right now -- shaking as usual -- and I'm about to unveil a portrait of my husband and my governor in this building so rich with the history of 'We the people,' I feel really large. And I feel really small," she said.
The background of the painting depicts a distant Minneapolis skyline and the Minnesota state Capitol building. It also features the light-rail transit line that Ventura championed during his four years in office.
Ventura rests his hand on a version of Auguste Rodin's sculpture, The Thinker. During his run for governor, Ventura posed in the sculpture's famous chin-on-fist position to contrast with his reputation as "the Body."
Minnesota Historical Society director Nina Archabal said she wasn't sure what to expect in a portrait for the unconventional governor. Archabal called the collection of governors' portraits a "visual record" of the state's leadership.
"Gov. Ventura, just as you do, your portrait will talk straight. It will tell your story to all who come here to our state Capitol to learn about Minnesota's leaders and their historic legacy," she said at the ceremony.
Ventura chose his long-time friend and former tag-team wrestling partner, Stephen Cepello, to produce the portrait. Cepello says the former governor's only request was to include his Naval insignia and to keep the painting dignified. Cepello says the other allegorical flourishes were based on his 25-year friendship with Ventura.
"I sat in front of my easel, and I pondered: Was this to be a memorial? Or maybe a stay of mortality? Or a testimony to a fiercely independent personality of my friend Jesse? I chose them all," he said.
Before the ceremony, Ventura appeared at ease and greeted his former staff members and other dignitaries. But Ventura declined to speak during the presentation. And afterwards, in keeping with his long-standing distrust of the media, he ignored reporters' questions.
Former gubernatorial spokesman John Wodele, who continues to speak for Ventura, says Ventura is proud of his accomplishments and proud of the portrait. Wodele says Ventura is especially pleased that Cepello was able to serve as the artist.
"I think that means a lot to the governor. The governor is a very, very loyal person and all of us that work for him understand that, and understand why he would have Steve do the portrait," according to Wodele.
After the presentation, Ventura abruptly left for a private reception without offering any comment on the portrait or the ceremony.