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A more familiar face

His family always thought their father’s official portrait, hanging in the gallery of former governors at the South Dakota capitol, looked like what it was: an old man in a rocking chair showing advanced signs of aging and the malaria he caught as a colonel in the South Pacific in World War II.

They wanted a new painting, one that showed Gov. Leslie Jensen’s wry humor and people-loving personality. So, his son Les Jensen, 85, creator of Ashland’s Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, accomplished that, using an old photo of the governor relaxing and smiling in younger years — and employing Ashland portrait painter David William Terry to execute it.

Son Les and a dozen other relatives are just back from the official unveiling of the new oil portrait in the state capitol, with South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard presiding.

“The whole family and I were really pleased with it,” says Les. “It’s really him.”

Doing a portrait without the subject present is difficult, says Terry, who got input from many family members and used several old war photos to capture the eyes and mouth. It took him eight months.

The governor, who died in 1974, was a lawyer who defeated the incumbent Republican, winning a two-year term in 1936. He completed the first paved highway across South Dakota and paid down the state debt. He ran the state’s first phone company, which was started by his frontiersman father, Chris Jensen, in 1895. Les Jensen, also a lawyer, ran the company for some years and moved to Ashland in 1988.

“My father was a natural politician, very different from me,” says Les. “I’m an academic. He loved masses of people, but I find that boring. He was very charming and full of witty quips, and that came through in the painting.”

Like Les Jensen, Terry followed his dad into law, but gave it up for what he loved. It’s best to get to know the person you’re painting, relax and tell stories and let their personality come out, so “the process is a blast, really,” he notes.

“I always had this nagging passion for art and portrait painting, so I stopped being a trial lawyer in 2002 and mentored under a master portrait painter,” says Terry, who teaches the art at Ashland Art Center every Wednesday evening.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Les Jensen, right, and David Terry have become friends since Jensen commissioned Terry to paint a portrait of his father, a former governor of South Dakota. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
An old portrait, right, of former South Dakota Gov. Leslie Jensen, is shown next to the new one by Ashland artist David Terry. Photo courtesy of David Terry