Along with embracing a new administration, the White House has also experienced a change in aesthetic. President Joe Biden enjoyed the time-honored tradition of personalizing the Oval Office after his inauguration on Jan. 20. Several additions, alterations and continuities portray both the new and the old values and aims that will mark the next four years.
Biden stuck with tradition in keeping the Resolute Desk, a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes, which has remained the chosen desk of every president except Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. The desk faces several new additions to the room including painted portraits of Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, joined by a recently popular early founder, treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. The pairing of Jefferson and Hamilton is a reference to the strengths developed from differences – both leaders, each with strongly conflicting views, served alongside one another under Washington. Centered between the four leaders is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, representing resilience in a time of crisis, much like the former president’s leadership portrayed during the trials of the Great Depression.
Flanking the fireplace beneath the array of paintings are the busts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy – symbolic nods to the civil rights movement. Additionally, busts of Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights icon Rosa Parks adorn the office. A sculpture depicting a Chiricahua Apache rider is also present, formally owned by late senator Daniel K. Inouye, the first Japanese-American member of both houses of Congress. A seemingly odd presence in the room is a moon rock from the Apollo 17 mission, a possible nod at the President’s focus on science in the coming years.
Absent from the room is the controversial portrait of President Andrew Jackson, which previously hung to the left of President Trump. It has been replaced by inventor and founder Benjamin Franklin. Former President Trump faced criticism for choosing to display President Jackson, who, like Trump, ran on a populist platform. Jackson is historically known for signing the Indian Removal Act, which displaced thousands of Native Americans and resulted in the death of around 4,000 Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears”.
Also missing is a bust of Winston Churchill. The gold curtains of the former administration remain with the addition of a blue rug used by President Bill Clinton, whose choice of interior design bears a noticeable resemblance to the current arrangements. Much of the other furniture comes from past administrations.
A cup and saucer along with a box of pens set upon the Resolute Desk mark the hard work to come in the following months. The United States prepares for the new transition in administration as President Biden pushes for changes beyond art and drapery.