WASHINGTON (AP) The recently retired director of the National Museum of the American Indian spent $48,500 in museum funds to commission a portrait of himself and selected a non-Indian artist to create it, a newspaper reported Friday.
The portrait of W. Richard West Jr. by New York painter Burton Silverman hangs in a fourth-floor lounge of the museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is dedicated to the arts and culture of American Indians.
West, who has come under fire recently for travel expenditures, authorized the payment for the 2005 portrait after consulting with some members of the museum's advisory board, Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said. No other museum directors have commissioned portraits of themselves, she said.
West, who was traveling Friday in Australia, said he initially resisted the idea of a portrait of himself.
"What I want to be clear about is it was not a project initiated by me," West said. "Believe me, if I had known it was going to come up in this context, I would not have done it."
West said a member of the museum's board of trustees proposed the portrait but declined to name the board member. He said he eventually allowed the portrait to go forward and tried to find a native artist, but several declined the commission because they did not work in portraiture.
"I think that there was a feeling at the time that this was an appropriate kind of recognition," West said. "Without claiming too much, I want to be modest about it, I was the founding director. I had seen the museum go from patches of earth to three facilities."
According to Silverman's Web site, the portrait is in oil and is 48 inches high by 34 inches wide. Silverman is of Polish descent.
West, a 64-year-old Harvard-trained historian and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was hired in 1989 to oversee planning for the flagship museum, which opened in 2004. He retired last month.
His expenses have come under scrutiny following recent reports that he spent more than $250,000 in the past four years on first-class transportation and luxury hotels.
West said all his trips were authorized and necessary for the launch of a museum that covers cultures beyond the United States. He said he's "slightly outraged" that his travel is being scrutinized in the same way as other Smithsonian leaders because his time away was connected to museum work.
Two U.S. senators have called for independent investigations of West's spending.
"It appears that Mr. West was determined to meet Mr. Small's champagne lifestyle, glass for glass," Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley said in a letter to the board Thursday.
Former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small resigned in March after questions were raised about his compensation and spending.
Kevin Gover, who took over as the Indian Museum's director last month, defended West's costs, saying he "would not presume to question his judgment."