W. Richard West Jr.: Indian Museum Director Spent Nearly $50,000 on Painting of Himself (and by a non-Indian)

Historians in the News

The recently retired director of the National Museum of the American Indian spent $48,500 in museum funds to commission a portrait of himself and selected a non-Indian artist to create it, a newspaper reported Friday.

The portrait of W. Richard West Jr. by New York painter Burton Silverman hangs in a fourth-floor lounge of the museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is dedicated to the arts and culture of American Indians.

West, who has come under fire recently for travel expenditures, authorized the payment for the 2005 portrait after consulting with some members of the museum's advisory board, Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told The Washington Post. No other museum directors have commissioned portraits of themselves, she said.

Silverman, of Polish descent, was chosen after the Smithsonian "couldn't find a Native artist who did formal portrait sittings like this," St. Thomas said. According to Silverman's Web site, the portrait is in oil and is 48 inches high by 34 inches wide.

West, a 64-year-old Harvard-trained historian and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was hired in 1989 to oversee planning for the flagship museum, which opened in 2004. He retired last month....

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