One morning in early April, 2014, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The number had a 202 Area Code…probably a salesperson, I thought, as I picked up the phone. A voice came through—“Hello, this is the Office of Protocol in Washington DC, may we speak with Lucy?” After I acknowledged that I was indeed Lucy, the caller went on to explain. “We would like to purchase your artwork as a diplomatic gift…”
At this point I figured that I was listening to a prank caller or being led into some kind of scam, so I quickly asked, “Is this a prank call?”
The caller responded, "No ma'am, we are a government agency responsible for procuring diplomatic gifts on behalf of the White House and Department of State officials.”
As I was speaking, my husband had been frantically searching Google and Snopes.com to determine whether this call was legitimate. He quickly rushed over to confirm that the “Department of Protocol” did indeed exist for this purpose!
Initially, the representative would not reveal who the gift was for, or who would be presenting it. However, after presenting them with multiple options, all of which were rejected, I explained that the recipient’s ambiguity made it rather difficult to select an appropriate artwork. Finally, after receiving authorization from the State Department, the representative was able to disclose that the gift was to be presented by President Barack Obama to King Halim of Malaysia during the President’s visit that year!
President Barack Obama would be the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit in 1966. As such, I had to be extremely thoughtful about my selection for such a historic occasion. Eventually, the final piece that won this unexpected honor was “Enlightenment III.” The piece features a large magnolia blossom floating above the verdant California foothills amidst an aurora of my signature tendrils. These tendrils are inspired by indigenous designs from the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. Both the tendrils and the aura surrounding the inner pod of the magnolia flower convey hope that President Obama's visit would foster an "enlightened" relationship between the United States and Malaysia.
Because this happened in such an official setting, I had to maintain absolute secrecy about the diplomatic gift and my involvement until President Obama left office. But while this situation was unknown to the world, it significantly impacted my own life as an artist. At the time of the call from the White House, I was in a place of stagnation, making few sales and seeing no career growth or opportunities. I began to wonder if it was time to quit my job as an artist and go take up a retail position. But after receiving the opportunity to have my work presented to the king of Malaysia, I realized that God was affirming that this was what I needed to keep doing. This wasn’t the end of my work as an artist.
It wasn’t the end of Enlightenment III’s story, either. Four years later, a Marin county resident was visiting my Fulton Crossing studio for the first time when they read my bio and the story of how my magnolia flower artwork was presented to King Halim of Malaysia. The painting made an immediate impression on my client, whose mother migrated from Singapore, and whose brother also currently lives in Malaysia. The South Bay Area foothills at the bottom of this piece also reminded them of their beloved Sonoma county landscape. As we conversed, I immediately connected with her story.
This client then contacted me to ask about the availability of Giclée prints for the original piece. However, since the artwork had never been professionally captured to produce Giclée prints, I instead suggested a private commission with a similar composition. To reinforce the Sonoma County connection, I also suggested replacing the South Bay area foothills with a local landscape. The client enthusiastically agreed, and we settled upon an original composition with slightly larger dimensions. The finished work, while maintaining the signature magnolia flower, features a view of Mount St. Helena, emerging grandly as a distinctive landmark above Sonoma County.
“I’m so in love with it and feel so lucky to have your art in my home,” my client wrote after hanging her new painting. So while I don’t know how the King of Malaysia received my work, I am grateful that it has brought me the chance to connect with other audiences and bring them joy.
There are a number of reasons that people commission me to produce an original work of art. In many cases my clients request a composition similar to an existing piece, but would like to change the size, aspect ratio (i.e. for vertical or horizontal display), or color scheme. I am happy to create an original artwork that meets your needs. If you would be interested in such a service, please click here for more information.