Hidden meanings behind subtle changes to Oval Office decor

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·3-min read

US President Joe Biden has wasted no time in his first 24 hours in office, with a White House makeover prioritised alongside a raft of political orders.

Following a turbulent four years under former US president Donald Trump, Biden was quick to sign 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations on Wednesday (local time) while undoing some policies put in place by his predecessor.

And while only a handful of people will ever step foot inside the Oval Office during Biden’s presidency, there was great significance in Biden’s desire to quickly change up its decor.

President Joe Biden sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. Source: AP
President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office on Wednesday. Source: AP

One of the big changes was to remove the military flags put on display during Trump’s term as Biden looks to a fresh start.

Trump put great emphasis on the military during his term, yet his relationship with the military became strained in his later years and he was criticised for politicising the army over their deployment during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Bust of labour leader and civil rights activist introduced

Biden has brought in a bust of Cesar Chavez, the labour leader and civil rights activist who fought tirelessly for the nation’s migrant farmers, and is nestled among an array of framed family photos displayed on a desk behind the new president.

Chavez’s family believe the bust shows Biden’s commitment to inclusion.

The Oval Office of the White House has been redecorated for Biden's tenure. Source: AP
Family photos take centre stage behind Biden's desk. Source: AP
Biden has introduced new photos and sculptures to the Oval Office of the White House.
The Oval Office of the White House newly redecorated for the first day of President Joe Biden's administration. Source: AP

Also represented in sculptures are civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Benjamin Franklin peers down at Biden from a portrait on a nearby wall as a nod to Biden’s interest in science, while paintings of former president Thomas Jefferson and former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, two men who regularly clashed in their opinions, are paired together.

Biden’s office told the Washington Post their introduction “hallmarks of how differences of opinion, expressed within the guardrails of the Republic, are essential to democracy”.

The Oval Office of the White House is newly redecorated for the first day of President Joe Biden's administration, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Five portraits hang around the Oval Office's fire place. Source: AP

Portrait of populist president removed

A notable departing item was a portrait of former president Andrew Jackson a populist who signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to thousands of Native American deaths.

Ashley Williams, the deputy director of Oval Office operations, said it was “important for President Biden to walk into an Oval that looked like America”.

Biden brought a dark blue rug out of storage to replace a lighter coloured one installed by former President Donald Trump.

One office feature remaining is the Resolute Desk, named because it was built from oak used in the British Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute. Trump used the same desk.

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