WASHINGTON — Paul Chavez had no idea where a sculpture of his father, Latino American civil rights and labour leader Cesar Chavez, would end up in the White House.
He agreed just this week to lend the bronze bust to President Joe Biden and hustled to get it wrapped up and shipped across the country from California. It was an utter surprise Wednesday when he saw Biden at his desk in the Oval Office, with the bust of the late Cesar Chavez right behind the president.
“We’re still smiling cheek to cheek,” Paul Chavez said in an interview Thursday.
Biden pressed themes of unity and inclusivity and advocacy for racial justice during the campaign, and Chavez said Biden appeared to be trying to convey that through a series of quick decorative changes he’s made to the world’s most powerful office.
Chavez said the prominent placement of his father’s likeness in the White House sends the message that it’s a “new day” following the tenure of Donald Trump and the anti-immigrant policies that he and his advisers pushed. He predicted “the contributions of working people, of immigrants, of Latinos … will be taken into account” in the new administration.
Biden revealed his Oval Office touch-up Wednesday as he signed a raft of executive orders and other actions in his first hours as the nation’s 46th president.
The most visually striking change is Biden’s choice of a deep blue rug, with the presidential seal in the middle, that was last used by President Bill Clinton, to replace a light colored rug laid down by Trump. Biden is also using Clinton’s deep gold draperies.
Busts of civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are also on display, along with a sculpture of President Harry Truman. Biden removed a bust of Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister.
On the wall across from Biden’s desk is a portrait collage of predecessors George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and former treasury secretary.
No longer on display is a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, a Trump favourite who signed the Indian Removal Act that forced tens of thousands of Native Americans out of their homeland.
Biden is keeping the Resolute desk, so named because it was built using oak from the British Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute. But he got rid of the red button that Trump had on the desk and would push to have a butler bring him a Diet Coke, his beverage of choice.
All presidents tweak the Oval Office decor at the start of their terms to reflect their personal tastes or to telegraph broader messages to the public.
The White House maintains a vast collection of furniture, paintings and other artifacts that they can choose from. Presidents are also allowed to borrow items from the Smithsonian and other museums. The White House curator oversees everything, and the makeover is carried out in the hours after the outgoing president leaves the mansion and before the new president arrives.
Biden also replaced a row of military service flags Trump used to decorate the office with a single American flag and a flag with the presidential seal, both positioned behind his desk.
He also chose a tufted, dark brown leather chair instead of keeping the reddish brown desk chair Trump used.
Darlene Superville, The Associated Press