By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
On first glance, the portrait Tim Mandese drew of late Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Jackson, looks almost like a photograph.
Mandese spent more than 30 hours working on a detailed portrait of the late state senator which will be given by Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, to Christensen’s family.
Christensen, who was being treated for cancer, died earlier this month after contracting COVID in December, when he was placed into a medically-induced coma. He is survived by his wife Anita, five children and 13 grandchildren.
This is not the first time Driskill has come to Mandese with a challenging drawing request.
“This is the fourth piece I’ve done for Ogden, and it’s intimidating to do, because Leland was his best friend,” Mandese said. “It’s a memorial portrait, so you want to get it right. But Ogden recently had me draw a photo of Gov. Gordon’s father at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in 1965, so you know, no pressure.”
Driskill said he was “thrilled” with Mandese’s work on the other drawings he’s commissioned. He hasn’t seen the Christensen drawing in person yet but said he was impressed with the photos that Mandese has sent him.
“I think he’s absolutely incredible how he catches the life in the person,” Driskill said. “When Tim sent me the photo of Leland’s drawing, it brought a tear to my eye because it’s like looking at Leland. It’s that good.”
Mandese said the key to perfectly capturing Christensen’s lovable personality and affability is through the eyes, which are also the toughest portion to draw.
“If you don’t get the eyes right, you’re wasting your time on the rest of the portrait,” he said. “You can tell a person just by their eyes. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and it’s true. Once you get the eyes right, you know exactly who the person is.”
Driskill said Casper Sen. Drew Perkins will be taking the portrait down to Cheyenne and will place it in the senate chamber for the week. Driskill will then present the portrait to Christensen’s widow, Anita, at the funeral on February 26.
Mandese said he is excited to see the reaction to his work.
“It’s always nerve-wracking until you get the high sign from whoever commissioned the piece,” he said. “Photos just don’t do it justice, because you can’t see the subtleties or the shading on the actual portrait. It just looks much better in person.”
Mandese, who has taught art for 10 years in Tampa, says he is more proud of what his students have done than the works he completes.
He mentioned one of his former students who won an Academy Award for her work at Sony Pictures for 2019’s animated Spiderman cartoon “Into the Spiderverse”.
“It’s not necessarily what I do, it’s more of what I can help others do,” he said. “That’s a real accomplishment to me.”
Many have paid tribute to Christensen since his passing, including U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Gov. Mark Gordon and Cowboy State Daily Editor Jimmy Orr.