Portrait of President Reagan’s Arabian Stallion El Alamein by Kim McElroy Prints and Posters available at www.spiritofhorse.com
In 1981 Jose’ Lopez Portillo, the President of Mexico, presented an inauguration gift to President Ronald Reagan of an Arabian Stallion named El Alamein. Years later, a family friend sent me pictures of President Reagan’s beautiful white stallion, and I hoped to one day paint him.
In the fall of 1994, I hired a public relations firm for advertising consulting. Among their credentials was the fact that several of the associates had been part of President Reagan’s White House staff. When I discovered this connection, I told them of my desire to paint the president’s horse. I wondered if it would be possible to give the portrait to him as a gift. The associates were intrigued by the idea, and they agreed to contact Reagan’s office, but they made no promises. I began the portrait without any knowledge of if it would ever reach the President.
Inspiration can be a fascinating subconscious process and I am constantly amazed at the way it works. When I began the painting, I wanted to depict the beauty of the white stallion as pastel on white silk. I had used this technique with several other pieces, and the trick is to get it right the first time, because there is no erasing on silk.
Considering an abstract color background, I did some test swatches of color. I was thinking of adjectives such as regal and royal and I put down an emerald green, then I tried navy blue, and then crimson red. As I visualized the white horse against the colors, I remember the thoughts came into my mind as I compared colors, “White, red, blue…” And then it was obvious – the background was of the American flag.
I completed the original painting, and shortly thereafter, President Reagan announced to the world that he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and that he was retiring from public life. Sadly, I realized that due to his seclusion, it was unlikely I would be able to present it to him. But then word came; we got a call on February 5th. President Reagan’s office staff was celebrating his birthday on February 8th. They wanted me to present the portrait in person.
Three days later we were on a plane to Los Angeles, California. My mother and business partner, Kay, and David Rabin, Reagan’s former staff member were with me. When we arrived at President Reagan’s office in Century City, California, and the security cleared us to enter the elevator. I was in a state of suspended animation. I kept trying to repeat in my mind the few things I had memorized to say to him, but of course this all flew out the window as we entered his office. A secret service agent greeted us and checked out the painting. When he saw it he smiled and said, “Hey, its El Alamein!” I said, “Yes, it’s a gift. I was hoping I might get the chance to meet the horse someday, too.” He shook his head and said, “Unfortunately, he died about three years ago. He was President Reagan’s favorite horse.” I was sorry to hear this, and knew that the gift would have even more meaning for him.
President Reagan and El Alamein
President Reagan came in with his staff shortly thereafter. He didn’t know what the occasion was because the painting was a surprise. I was introduced to him and we shook hands. He smiled and grasped mine warmly, and then we turned on cue for the photographer. There was a slight delay before my mother was introduced, and so as not to be left out, she stepped forward and boldly introduced herself by saying “Hi, I’m Mom!” He didn’t skip a beat and laughed as he shook her hand.
When the moment arrived for the presentation I felt like everything was heightened and in slow motion. Of course I can’t remember what I said, but it was something like “I am honored to present to you my portrait of your horse El Alamein”. As I held the portrait up, his eyes lit up with joy and he said, “You did this for me?” He smiled from ear to ear, and he said “It is beautiful…” The cloudy day suddenly cleared and he commented on the change. Perhaps I had brought a moment of sunshine into his day. I knew then that I had given him a unique gift that touched his soul as a horse lover. He looked around his office and said, “I want to hang this in here.” His assistant glanced around his office, full of important mementos and presidential plaques, and she smiled wryly and said, “Where?” “We’ll find a place,” said President Reagan.
Kim presents portrait to President Reagan
It is said that all great men have a love for horses. I believe this to be true. Years later, when I watched the televised coverage of President Reagan’s funeral, as the jets flew over the Reagan ranch in tribute, I heard the distant whinny of a horse. Perhaps he is now riding the heavenly realms on the back of his favorite horse.