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Former Senate President Stan Rosenberg's portrait coming to State House

File photo - Former state senator Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, Massachusetts.
Sam Doran
File photo - Former state senator Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, Massachusetts.

For decades, every president of the Massachusetts state Senate has had their official portrait painted and hung in the State House in Boston.

In the near future, that will include the last western Massachusetts lawmaker to lead the Senate, Amherst Democrat Stanley Rosenberg, who resigned in 2018. Rosenberg said his portrait is still a work in progress with no firm date for its installation.

“Hard to get my hair right,” Rosenberg joked in an email Tuesday. “Seriously, it’s a process.”

The fact that Rosenberg is having his portrait painted first came to light in November, when the news outlet MASSterList reported that in June he hadpaid $30,000 in campaign cash to the Southborough-based Prosperi Studio. Now, campaign finance records show that Rosenberg spent another $27,500 in January on his official portrait painting.

Commissioning an official portrait – and using old campaign cash to do so – is not new for Bay State politicos.

At the end of last year, former Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his own portrait that is now hanging in the State House. Data from the state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance show that between 2022 and 2023, Baker paid Pennsylvania artist Ellen Cooper $37,201 for portrait and photography services.

Rosenberg’s portrait, however, is considerably more expensive. In an email, Rosenberg said that he felt it was worth paying the difference given the quality of other portraits that husband and wife duo Warren and Lucia Prosperi have done.

“The Prosperi Studio rate is the same for all portraits as best I know,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said that he first met the Prosperis when somebody asked him to meet with the couple to see if he could help them think about places for several large-scale works that could be appropriate for public buildings.

“I recognized the artist's work immediately upon entering the studio,” Rosenberg said. It was the same artist who painted portraits of former Senate presidents William Bulger and Therese Murray, he said.

Lucia Prosperi also has a tie to western Massachusetts, having graduated from Hampshire College, though Rosenberg said that was not what led him to ultimately choose Prosperi Studio to paint the portrait.

Rosenberg was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1986 and then as a state senator in 1991.

In 2015, he became openly gay and first Jewish Senate president, though his tenure was short-lived. In 2017, he stepped down as president amid an ethics investigation related to sexual-misconduct allegations against his husband, Bryon Hefner. In 2018, Rosenberg resigned after that investigation found he had failed in his responsibility to protect the Senate from Hefner.

Other elected officials who have dug into their campaign coffers to buy portraits of themselves include former governor Mitt Romney, who in 2008 and 2009 spent $32,000 on a painting of himself, $507 to transport it and another $4,006 on a "portrait event" to unveil it, campaign finance records show. State data show some of the state's most powerful politicians donating $12,900 to Plymouth Guild Inc. for the "Therese Murray Portrait Fund." During that same time period, Rosenberg made a $10,000 donation to the organization.

Dusty Christensen is an investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He currently teaches news writing and reporting at UMass Amherst.
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