- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The decorative china plates are long gone. Historic metal gadgets and American Indian pottery now stand in their stead. Resting on a bookshelf is a framed program from the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

President Obama gradually has made the Oval Office his own.

To varying degrees, each president puts his own imprint on this celebrated work space. Even the smallest change — Mr. Obama’s penholder, for example — is closely watched for symbolism.

Although each recent president has made an overhaul upon taking office, Mr. Obama decided against major redecorating. It would have struck a sour note in a time of economic distress. But over his first year in the White House, the office has come to reflect the president’s tastes.

The table behind Mr. Obama’s desk is full of family photos — a wedding picture, shots of his girls as toddlers, a picture from the day he announced for president and more — photos that he says remind him “why I’m doing what I’m doing.” Out the window, the president can watch daughters Sasha and Malia climb on the playscape erected for them last spring.

The Oval Office now has a bust of King in addition to the March on Washington program that hung on Mr. Obama’s “wall of heroes” in his Senate office.

“This office, I think, reminds you of what’s at stake, how many hopes and dreams are placed in what goes on here at the White House,” Mr. Obama said in a recent television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Perhaps no other room in the White House is more closely associated with the presidency.

It is where Mr. Obama signs letters to the families of fallen soldiers, where he told the war council of his decision to ship thousands more troops to Afghanistan, where he receives daily briefings on the security threats facing the nation and on the state of the economy.

California decorator Michael Smith worked with Mr. Obama on updating the look of the Oval Office.

In came four pieces of pottery by contemporary American Indian artists, all on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian. Also new to the Obama bookshelves are three mechanical devices on loan from the National Museum of American History’s patent collection: models for Samuel Morse’s 1849 telegraph register, John Peer’s 1874 gear-cutting machine and Henry Williams’ 1877 feathering paddle wheel for steamboats.

White House curator William Allman said the patent models fit Mr. Obama’s personality: his “interest in American history, his interest in technology and his interest in the creative spirit.”

The pottery and gadgets arrived in the Oval Office months after a collection of decorative plates from the Bush years made a quick departure — plates just weren’t his style, Mr. Obama said.

A big bowl of fresh apples on the coffee table, something of an Obama family tradition, has proved popular with visitors, although the president still keeps M&Ms; handy for children.

Even as presidents come and go, many Oval Office features project continuity.

The marble mantle over the fireplace arrived when William Howard Taft expanded the president’s office and first shaped it into an oval in 1909. Other carry-overs from administrations past include a Rembrandt Peale painting of George Washington, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story and a tabletop Frederic Remington sculpture, “The Bronco Buster.”

The Resolute desk has been a favorite of presidents for more than a century. Queen Victoria presented it to President Hayes.

When a TV crew accidentally knocked over a glass of water on the desk during a June photo session, Mr. Obama didn’t get the name quite right when he deadpanned, “It’s the Resolution Desk. It’s only like 100 years old.”

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