New Ford Library exhibit wraps grand gifts in context
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat wanted Johnny Cash.
But when the "Man in Black" was too ill to perform at a White House dinner thrown in Sadat's honor by President Gerald Ford, Pearl Bailey was able to step in.
That's just one of the stories behind the historical photos, displayed with gifts presented to Ford by foreign heads of state, on display in the exhibit "Art of Diplomacy: Head of State Gifts from the Ford Presidency" now through June at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
David Horrocks, supervisory archivist at the library on North Campus, said the Ford administration encouraged foreign leaders to swap photographs in lieu of gifts, after a controversy over such gifts during the Richard Nixon years.
Still, striking offerings were bestowed on Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, during his presidency from 1974-77. Among them, a 3 1/2-foot tall brass enameled cloisonné floor vase from the People's Republic of China, decorated with birds and flowers against a blue sky, that was presented to Ford in honor of his Dec. 1-4, 1975 visit to China.
Behind the vase, in a large glass wall case, is an oversized color photo of a smiling Ford at dinner using chopsticks, seated alongside Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. The exhibit also features a "secret/sensitive" briefing memo on the upcoming visit, from Brent Scowcroft, then the president's assistant national security adviser.
Another large photo shows Sadat in a suit, a pipe to his lips at a White House visit, shortly after Egypt and Israel reached a historic decision on disengagement for their armed forces in the Israeli-occupied Sinai region.
"It was a precursor to the Camp David agreement," Horrocks says. "Mrs. Sadat gave to Mrs. Ford this necklace of Roman-era glass, called 'The Collar of Sait Arsenius.' The reference to a Coptic Christian is striking in the context of today's tensions between Islamism and the West."
An acrylic display case is devoted to items depicting Queen Elizabeth's visit to the White House. Photos show the place settings and a beaming President Ford in a tuxedo dancing with the smiling queen. Also in the exhibit are cufflinks presented by the queen to one of Ford's sons, with the inscription "ER," representing "Elizabeth Regina."
The entertainment program also is displayed.
"Queen Elizabeth requested Bob Hope," Horrocks explains, and Hope is listed, along with The Captain & Tennille and their band members, on the program in blue text on cream-colored paper set in a checkbook-sized blue cover.
Horrocks notes that the meetings of heads of states and exchange of gifts tended to signify a more serious underlying policy developments between the two countries. A red and gold lacquered wooden punch bowl and cups were presented by two of three Russian pilots who completed a historic transpolar flight from Moscow to Washington state in 1937.
"The meeting was a public relations prelude to a joint U.S.-Soviet manned space mission later in the year," Horrocks says.
Also on display are numerous letters of credence, used to formally introduce new ambassadors to their host governments. Several demonstrate fine calligraphy on elegant stationery, with head-of-state autographs to boot.
The exhibit coincides with the ongoing declassification and public release at the library of the 1974-77 diplomatic files of Ford, Henry Kissinger, Scowcroft and the National Security Council staff.
Admission and parking are free at the library at 1000 Beal Ave. For more information call (734) 205-0555 or go to www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov.