Politics have held a certain fascination for Detroit Lakes High School senior Ale Vogt-Larson "since Barack Obama faced Mitt Romney (in the 2012 presidential election)."
As he watched the drama of the 2020 U.S. elections unfold, Ale said, he came up with the idea of combining his love for all things presidential with his other great passion: Painting.
"It's my passion," he said, referring to the artworks that fill the walls of his bedroom.
Ale plans to pursue a degree in art after graduating from high school, though he has not yet chosen which post-secondary institution he plans to attend.
One day this fall, Ale said, he decided he wanted to paint the portraits of all the U.S. presidents, past, present and future.
"I love politics, I love history," he said. "I wanted to know more about these people."
In order to give each of his portraits "a fourth dimension — a personality," Ale would do in-depth research on each of the 46 men who have been elected or appointed to serve in the White House, from George Washington to Joe Biden. He listened to podcasts, he read books, he did everything he could to understand each of these men before he picked up a paintbrush to immortalize them on canvas.
Even with all the pre-portrait research, he says, the entire project took "two weeks and five days" to complete, and he averaged about two portraits per day — though some days were more productive than others.
"One day I finished five of them," he said, and some days, he needed to take a little break from painting.
To show off his finished project, Ale began posting one portrait a day to his Instagram account, with the intent of posting the last one — Biden's — on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
Now that his POTUS painting project is complete, Ale says, he has a new goal in his sights: To paint all 46 women to have held the title of first lady of the United States.
As he completes each one, he hangs them up on the wall next to the portraits of their husbands, and will begin posting a portrait a day on Instagram, starting on Jan. 21 and leading up to International Women's Day, March 8.
Neither Democrat nor Republican
Though his fascination with politics is unabated, Ale says, he identifies as neither Democrat nor Republican.
"I'm more of a centrist," he added. "I respect everyone's political beliefs, even if I don't agree with them. That's what this country was built on, compromise and democracy."
He admits to being more than a little disturbed, even horrified, by all the stories of political unrest and violent protests that have unfolded over the past 12 months, and particularly this month.
"I want us all to be united again," he says. "Otherwise, what's the point of being the United States? Unity is exactly what we need right now."
He particularly dislikes the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a political issue, rather than one of health and safety. Wearing a mask and social distancing really isn't so much to ask, he added.
He fears the recent drop in active coronavirus cases reported by the Minnesota Department of Health is just a temporary lull rather than a permanent downward trend.
"I feel this is the calm before the storm," Ale said, adding that he checks for COVID updates in the news every day. He says it has become more important than ever to follow the rules with regard to public safety.
"I really, really care about people," Ale said. "I just want everybody to be safe."