WASHINGTON - When President Clinton saw a photo of the painting - a lush, impressionist - style panorama of Georgetown University overlooking the Potomac River - it was love at first sight. With one phone call, the White House sent a Secret Service van last spring to fetch the 4 foot - by - 2 foot canvas from a local gallery. it had found a home in the private quarters of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton on Pennsylvania Avenue. For artist Joseph Dawley, this was the crowning moment in a career deeply affected by a prolonged struggle with Parkinson's disease, the degenerative neurological ailment that impairs muscle control.
When Dawley got word that his June Sunset Over the Potomac was on official loan to the president, the 60-year-old Cranford, NJ resident couldn't believe it. "I'm just very proud, very honored," he says. "This probably puts five years on my life." Though he is seldom well enough to leave his studio, Dawley is eager to accept a recent invitation to visit the White House before Christmas. It will be an opportunity to see his painting hanging in the private quarters and to meet a president he has long admired. For years, Dawley had hoped that one of his paintings would hang in the White House.
His works have been on display at the Vatican, St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and other institutions. Cartier jewelers incorporated two of his works into Christmas cards in the late 1980s. And a number of high - profile people, including Secretary of State designate Madeleine Albright and former presidential contender George McGovern, have collected his paintings. But a sitting president... Gigi Dawley, the painter's wife, says she "darn near caused an accident on the Jersey Turnpike" after she called home by cellular phone and was told by her husband that he had just heard from the curator of the White House.
Dawley hopes his painting has found a home. "After I die, I'd like it to go to the permanent collection. I have said so in my will." But the White House invitation means more to him than money. "I'm beside myself, to be honest."