Irish-American Interior Design: Kennedy on Your Wall

John F. Kennedy portrait, a tradition in Irish-American homes.

If there is one single marker that once defined the Irish-American home, it was a portrait of one or more of the Kennedys. And of course. Jack F Kennedy may not have been the first US President with Irish ancestors — that would be Andrew Jackson, whose parents were Scots Irish who had immigrated to the United States two years before Jackson was born. But the Irish presidents who predated Kennedy were Ulster Scots, and JFK was Irish Catholic, from a family who migrated to America during the famine, and his father had come to power as part of a core of Boston Irish Catholic Democrats. And so, for many Irish-Americans, JFK was the first Irish-American president in a way that 14 previous Scots Irish US presidents weren’t. And so up JFK went onto the walls of Irish-American houses. In fact, he was popular enough that his portrait could often be seen on the walls of Irish homes and businesses.

Often, the image was the official presidential portrait by Louis Fabian Bachrach, pictured above, and it’s pretty easy to track down versions of this, or variations. But I’d like to offer some alternative suggestions.

1. “Flash – November 22, 1963, 1968” by Andy Warhol.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with Andy Warhol, whose obsession with the intersection of fame and tragedy led him to create a number of prints featuring the Kennedy family. The one above is just one of many, this one available as an inexpensive print from Art.com

2. “JFK drawing print,”  Daniel Medders

There are a number of portraits of Jack Kennedy on Etsy, unsurprisingly, so take your pick of whatever suits your tastes best. I rather like this pen drawing by Daniel Medders, which looks like an image that you might find in a 1960s underground comic. Most of all, I like Kennedy’s hair in this. God, it looks great.

3. JFK and Superman, Superman issue 170.


It is still possible to get issues of this comic, in which JFK asks Superman for help with his presidential physical fitness program. The issue almost didn’t go to print, as it was scheduled to go to press on April of 1964 and Kennedy was assassinated about a half-year before. Johnson requested the issue be published anyway, and so it was, as a memorial. JFK is not featured on the cover of the issue, so if you want to use it as a portrait of Kennedy you’ll have to frame the issue open or tear out the appropriate page — both suggestions would cause real comic collectors to howl with horror. Nonetheless, as portraits and as collector’s editions of comics go, these are relatively reasonably priced, ranging between $20 and several hundred dollars, depending on the quality.

4. “JFK’s Other Missile Crisis” by Nadia Khuzina

JFK had a reputation as a womanizer — made legendary by his reputed dalliance with Marilyn Monroe — and some artists enjoy highlighting his roguish side. If you have a taste for more risque imagery on your walls, satirical Russian artist Nadia Khuzina is responsible for a portrait that combines a leering Kennedy with an underwear-clad temptress that could have come from a 1960s pulp paperback or a James Bond novel, which Kennedy famously loved.

5. “John F. Kennedy Alien Hunter” by Jason Heuser


Artist Jason Heuser specializes in utterly mad portraits of presidents, including “Ronald Reagan Riding a Velociraptor” and “Thomas Jefferson Vs Gorilla.” So it is perhaps unsurprising that he put Kennedy, the president who created the moon program, on the moon. However, it is a bit surprising that Kennedy is riding a robot unicorn and has a knife in his hand.

6. Hipster Kennedy by Amit Shimoni.

Amit Shimoni likes to illustrate historic world leaders as though they were contemporary hipsters, and, I must say, his pompadoured, pencil-mustached JFK is my favorite. Kennedy was well-regarded as one of our handsomest presidents, and certainly he had a winning smile and strong, intense features, but up until now I never really understood his reputation for good looks. Now I get it. This guy is scary attractive.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.