Bud Kennedy

She's a Fort Worth hero. So how did her portrait end up 43 miles away?

Artist chosen for Obama’s official portrait has artwork in a Fort Worth museum

Los Angeles artist Kehinde Wiley is in a rare, career-defining position--painting the official White House portrait of former President Barack Obama. Another piece of his artwork sits inside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
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Los Angeles artist Kehinde Wiley is in a rare, career-defining position--painting the official White House portrait of former President Barack Obama. Another piece of his artwork sits inside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

One of Fort Worth’s all-time heroes comes home Sunday night.

But what was a portrait of famous children’s advocate Edna Gladney doing in Plano?

Gladney’s name is known around the world. For 33 years, she led what is now the Gladney Center for Adoption, placing more than 10,000 babies with happy families.

The 1941 movie of her life, Blossoms in the Dust, starred Greer Garson.

But when the Florida-based Capital Grille steakhouse chain opened restaurants in Texas a few years ago with portraits of “local legacies,” somehow Gladney’s portrait wound up in the Plano location.

“I was at dinner with friends and walked into the main room, and there’s Mrs. Gladney,” said Mark McLeland of the agency board.

“I thought — what the hell are they doing with Mrs. Gladney?”

So this weekend, Gladney’s 2011 portrait was moved 43 miles from Plano to downtown Fort Worth.

When it’s unveiled Sunday night, the wine room will become the “Edna Room.”

Local Capital Grille manager Gloria Starling has been careful to include women in the “local legacy” portraits such as movie star Ginger Rogers, the late state Sen. Betty Andujar, late school principal Harlean Beal and Cowgirl Hall of Fame founder Margaret Formby.

Starling wasn’t available Saturday. But McLeland said she did some research “and she said, ‘You’re right. That should be here.’ 

Gladney and her husband, Sam, lived a few years in Sherman, north of Plano, and she volunteered at the county “poor farm” there and started a day care. But that’s not where she gained fame.

The portrait is by Rhode Island artist Harley Bartlett, who also does abstracts for newer Capital Grilles.

“To me, it’s a symbol of how every child deserves a loving, caring family,” McLeland said.

“Thousands and thousands of families are together because of the organization that Rev. [I.Z.T.] Morris started” — Gladney took over a Methodist pastor’s struggling orphans’ home — “and that Edna Gladney really polished up.”

In a Gladney biography subtitled A Life and Legacy of Love, Aledo writer Sherrie McLeRoy, tells how Gladney herself was born in Milwaukee to a 17-year-old unwed mother, long a well-kept secret.

“Short, plump and vivacious, Gladney raced through life with a telephone in her right hand and an endless succession of other women’s babies in her left,” McLeRoy said in a 2015 TCU Center for Texas Studies talk.

She lobbied in Austin for child welfare services and to have adoptive parents listed on birth certificates instead of the word “illegitimate.”

“In an era of segregation,” McLeRoy said, “Edna declared without hesitation that she knew only one race — the human race — and placed out children of all faiths, nationalities and colors.”

The mission has changed, but only slightly.

On Sunday night, Gladney Center officials will welcome the portrait and the new Edna Room while toasting outgoing chief executive Frank Garrott, succeeded this month by development officer Mark Melson.

As international adoptions decline — because of both politics and bureaucracy, Garrott said — Gladney is putting new emphasis on finding homes for children in foster care.

The parents coming to Gladney have changed, too, he said. For decades, parents came to Gladney because they couldn’t have children.

(Mine did, in 1955. It didn’t work out with Gladney, but they adopted me out of a lawyer’s Star-Telegram classified ad. I cost $600.)

Now, Garrott said, parents come to help save children.

“We are seeing many parents now who have one, two or three children but feel a tug at the heart to adopt,” he said. “Or they had agreed all along to have a biological child and adopt another.”

The Gladney Center has placed more than 30,000 children.

And counting.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Los Angeles artist Kehinde Wiley is in a rare, career-defining position--painting the official White House portrait of former President Barack Obama. Another piece of his artwork sits inside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

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