How do you paint a portrait of a leader as visible and beloved as Daniel Vestal?
According to portrait artist Bill Nichols of San Antonio, you paint with genuine love and appreciation of a lifetime of ministry.
“I basically thought of all the things Daniel has meant to me and others and tried to use those,” said Nichols, who has known Daniel since they were both beginning their pastoral ministries. “You can have too many symbols, and the painting becomes too cluttered. You can have too few, and it’s just a painting of a guy.”
Studying under Dutch portrait artist Hugh Walters and earning a degree in art from Florida State University, Nichols has painted such luminaries as U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, businessman John Baugh, grocery store chain executive and founder of Laity Lodge Howard Butt, philanthropists Paul and Shirley Piper and Central Baptist Theological Seminary President Molly Marshall. His painting of Daniel is a part of his Baptist Pioneer Series.
“The most difficult challenge with any portrait is determining the key personality factor you want to emphasize,” Nichols said. “For Daniel, he has a gentle, peaceful spirit that anybody that meets him recognizes as his strong personality trait.”
He and Vestal both earned a Ph.D. degree from John Newport at Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary and have similar views on Scripture and theology.
“I painted him leaning forward in a more humble posture, rather than sitting up like ‘I’m in charge,’” Nichols said. “The Christian faith is dependent on symbols. We don’t always grasp the truth. We have to have symbols that point us to the truth.”
Nichols painted Vestal in a 17th century Italian-Renaissance style. He described the work as classical realism.
“In classical realism, the challenge is to capture small details that cause people to have fond memories,” Nichols said. He and his wife, Phyllis, are donating the portrait to Daniel and Earlene, and it will remain on display in the CBF offices in Atlanta.
“I just love him so much,” Nichols said.
Based on the number of people who lined up to hug Daniel’s neck after the Friday night service, Nichols is part of a large group of admirers.