Jesse’s ‘Thinker’ Spot Lives On

The political portrait is much like an advertisement. A great one can capture the essence of its subject/ brand. Consider the stoic visage of Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington on the $1 bill.

Now consider Stephen Cepello’s official gubernatorial portrait of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. The painting strongly recalls one of the first TV spots of Ventura’s 1998 campaign, which showed him modeling as Rodin’s The Thinker. The ad was meant to turn the former wrestler known as “Jesse the Body” into “Jesse the Mind.”

“This is a precedent, according to the people I’ve spoken to, as no one’s ever heard of a political ad getting into an official portrait,” says Bill Hillsman, president of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis.

The painting was unveiled in the Minnesota Capitol rotunda Nov. 13. Hillsman was there but didn’t recognize the reference to his ad right away. “He looked like he was leaning on a rock,” he says. “Then as I got closer, I noticed that it was Rodin’s The Thinker.”

John Wodele, Ventura’s former communications director, insists the portrait is about more than the ad. “The portrait symbolizes his public-policy vision by incorporating the light-rail line he got built, his ability to sell the recreational assets of the state,” Wodele says, alluding to the image of a fairway in the background and noting, “Minnesota has more golf courses per capita than any other state in the nation.”