15 portraits of presidents with ham

Slide show: One man's extraordinary project to paint every American leader holding a large piece of pork

Published November 10, 2010 9:20PM (EST)

We get a lot of bizarre e-mails every day at Salon, but a few weeks ago, one landed in our in box that was so strange, so unexpected and so wonderful that we just couldn't look away. Under the subject heading "The Presidential Ham," it proudly announced the completion of "detailed oil painting portraits of each U.S. president cradling cornucopia-shaped ham." To say the least, we were intrigued. Was this a joke? Was there some sort of ham-themed pop-cultural meme that we had missed?

As it turns out, "The Presidential Ham" is both real and utterly hilarious. Since 2006, Oregon artist bijijoo (real name: M.T. Horne) has painted pictures of each president holding a giant, pink piece of pork. Some, like Abraham Lincoln, are fiercely protective of their meat; others, like Richard Nixon, look proud and dismissive. But each image has a very clear and important message: I am a president, and I am holding this ham.

We've put together a slide show of his best work (click below for the link), but we also called up bijijoo (who is also on Twitter and Facebook) to ask him how, exactly, this project got started.

Why paint portraits of every single American president holding a ham?

The Presidential Ham project was conceived about four years ago. A friend of mine here in Portland introduced me to the concept of "larding" (a concept she invented), wherein one leaves a chunk of lard on someone's porch for them to discover. Larding kind of morphed into leaving all kinds of strange items on someone's porch or in their house. The point being that they would discover it at a later time and it would kind of mess with or jolt their perception of reality. For example, we snuck over to an unsuspecting friend's house at night and spelled out his name within a huge heart with bacon on his porch in front of his front door for him to discover in the morning. One time, some friends came over and coated my old Honda civic in glitter.

In 2006 I started getting back into painting and painted a huge portrait of Richard Nixon holding a ham. After that painting, I decided to tackle the project of painting all the presidents with ham. In a few months, I'm planning on starting the first ladies with the ham. That should be a little more challenging.

Why ham?

Pork products somehow bring people together. Bacon has a big following. The ham I used is actually just a fake cornucopia from a thrift store. I dressed in a suit and I had the cornucopia, and I just did a whole bunch of progressive poses and I worked from those pictures.

Which one is your favorite?

I really like the painting of Rutherford Hayes. His beard looks great, and he has this great facial expression. But from the historical perspective, I like James Buchanan, He was the only president who wasn't married, which surprised me. He was a big drinker. He would order cases of whiskey and he would go through a couple of bottles in one sitting and act like it didn't affect him at all.

By Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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