- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2000

SANTA FE, N.M.Political cartoonist and District resident Pat Oliphant spends summer and Christmas in Santa Fe.

"I'd be quite happy to be here all the time," Mr. Oliphant says. "There's a level of comfort, a level of feeling home in a place, which I never really feel in Washington.

"It's a 10-minute town, everything's at your fingertips. And there are so many interesting folks here from everywhere. You can get a good conversation going anytime."

Santa Fe's Museum of Fine Arts just opened an exhibit titled "Oliphant in Santa Fe," which features cartoons, sculptures and drawings.

What makes this exhibit whimsical is the juxtaposition of national caricatures with Santa Fe characters. So along the same walls as Bill, Hillary, Monica and George W., is a waitress named Karen Webb.

Karen who? She's a Santa Fe resident whose caricature — monotype on paper — is part of the Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. Her wide grin, cascading hair, busty build and huge goggles are shown in a portrait of her in her element: carrying food and drinks in her job at the Plaza Restaurant, a laid-back dining joint that has been in the center of this Southwestern city for 50 years.

"Oh my God, I look like I could plow a Missouri field," Ms. Webb says happily.

"She's something else isn't she?" says Mr. Oliphant, laughing. "I just saw her one day and she had such a great face, I just had to go home and draw it. It turns out that everybody knows Karen. Everybody recognized her, which was nice."

The 49-year-old grandmother says she didn't know she was on the wall until the opening of the exhibit Oct. 13.

"Everybody was having a good time, which I thought was great," Mr. Oliphant says. "It's nice to able to go into exhibits like that anonymously, just stand around and listen to the people laughing." (He makes a point of not socializing with his more prominent political subjects.)

The show already has been extended to May, most likely because of the familiarity of its characters. Ms. Webb was a main attraction, having made the cover of the catalog.

"People started coming into the restaurant and told me I was on a famous man's wall," says Ms. Webb, originally from Woodbridge, N.J., "and my response was, his kitchen wall, I hope."

The 15-year veteran of the Plaza, who flits about the dining room like the belle of the ball ("I love my job," she says), had not even heard of Pat Oliphant.

"She was just having a great time at the opening," he says. "We asked her to the opening not knowing how she would feel about it. She was a damn good sport about the whole thing."

Ms. Webb says people were also coming in for autographs, which was "so cool."

"[Mr.] Oliphant came in and brought his friends from Australia," Ms. Webb says. "He treated me like gold. And he gave me four catalogs, which was way cool."

Mr. Oliphant divided his pieces between Santa Fe and Washington. The nationally known include "The Coronation of William II," a 1997 conte crayon on paper rendering of President Clinton donning his crown (with the missis looking particularly Lady Macbeth-esque). This is offset by a 2000 charcoal and acrylic on paper of Santa Fe politicians Manny Aragon and Ray Sanchez, carving a turkey.

"I have no idea why," he says. "This painting merely celebrates the great enduring faces of public life."

Usually confined to newspaper-size cartoons, Mr. Oliphant went large, with some canvases measuring 5 by 6 feet in dimension.

"I have heard these gentlemen referred to as the Tweedle Brothers," notes Mr. Oliphant in the catalog.

"There are many other faces if I were allowed more time and space," he says. "It was fun working at that size."

He also enjoyed poking fun at the locals "because they were more interesting."

They're more colorful," he says. "Washington politicians look like lawyers, which is what they are. I suppose [lawyers] are here, too, but there's something more comfortable about it."

The exhibit is a joint effort by the Santa Fe museum and the Susan Conway Gallery in Georgetown. The show also includes drawings from the election year, before the 2000 recount reared its ugly head.

"We have to go down there and ask them, 'Can we add to that?' It could take up another wall," he says.

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