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Longtime Journalist Bob Schieffer Bares His Soul in a New Art Exhibition

Bob Schieffer retired from the anchor desk nearly a decade ago, but he never walked away from the news.

When confronted with the startling global and political developments of the past several years, the television journalist who spent more than a half century at CBS, including almost 25 years as the moderator of “Face the Nation,” took to a different medium — oil paint.

The resulting 25 works of art are featured in an exhibition set to open on Saturday at the American University Museum in Washington. The title, “Looking for the Light,” is inspired by the poem that Amanda Gorman recited at President Biden’s inauguration, but it also reflects what Mr. Schieffer sees for the nation’s future despite paintings that depict some of the darkest moments in recent history.

The paintings, a mix of images and text ripped from the headlines, include depictions of the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 protests after the death of George Floyd.

This is the first solo exhibition for Mr. Schieffer, 87. He has had little formal training but has had years of practice since his talent was first nurtured by his grandmother. As a child, he would sit with her on her front porch in Texas and draw the cows.

His recent work was painted from a tarp-covered corner of the sunny dining room that his wife, Patricia, allowed him to claim as his studio early on in the pandemic. During an interview in that makeshift studio in his art-filled condominium in Northwest Washington, Mr. Schieffer acknowledged that some of his most evocative work might be seen as provocative.

But Mr. Schieffer, who spent 23 years as the anchor of the Saturday edition of the “CBS Evening News,” said he still thought of himself as a journalist, not an activist.

“I think journalism is more than just being a stenographer,” he said. “These paintings, I guess you can say they have a point of view. But I don’t consider them partisan.”

Michael Beschloss, the author and presidential historian who curated the exhibit, described the work in his statement as “the part of Bob’s soul that he kept off the TV screen.”

Mr. Schieffer’s subjects are often literally ripped from the headlines, including tear-outs from the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, the three papers that Mr. Schieffer still reads every morning. He also cites news photographs and television broadcasts as references.

Several paintings touch on topical issues, including abortion and gun control. In one, a young girl in a bright blue dress flees Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on the day of the shooting that killed 19 of her fellow students. In the painting, she runs down the same road as Phan Thi Kim Phuc, “the napalm girl.” Mr. Schieffer depicts the Uvalde girl similar to how Ms. Kim Phuc was seen in the famous 1972 photo taken during the Vietnam War — distraught, with clothes burned away.

Mr. Schieffer’s feelings on the state of American politics is clear in both the paintings and his captions. Under a painting of protesters against gun violence, he writes, “We offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ and for the most part just wait for the next shooting.”

Mr. Schieffer has reverently rendered Representative John Lewis, Senator John McCain and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor in four separate portraits made after their deaths, calling them “remarkable heroes.”

“We have created a politics that our best and brightest people want nothing to do with,” Mr. Schieffer said. He added, “How long has it been since you’ve heard anybody say, ‘I sure hope my kid grows up to be a politician’?”

The brightest paintings in his collection are of the young women in whom he sees hope for the future. There is a scene of high school students protesting the Supreme Court decision overturning the right to abortion granted by Roe v. Wade; of Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump administration staff member, being sworn in before the House Jan. 6 committee; and of Ms. Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb,” the inaugural poem.

The exhibition will be on display until May 19. In the weeks leading up to the opening, Mr. Schieffer was still painting away in his dining room alcove, surrounded by art history books.

“He’s going at it with a vengeance,” said Jack Rasmussen, the director and curator of the museum. “Ordinarily, you work your way up for 20 or 30 years, you have shows, you enter juried competitions, things like that. Then by the time you’re Bob’s age you’d probably stop painting. But he’s just getting going.”

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