Three former presiding judges in 12th Judicial Circuit and five Mexico attorneys have earned the honor of having their portraits placed on the walls of the Audrain County Courthouse, thanks to the artistic talent of one of their own brotherhood.
The portraits of judges Frank Hollingsworth, George P. Adams, and E.S. Gantt, along with attorneys Lakenan Barnes, Latney Barnes, Andy Runge, Everett Van Matre and William Van Matre were painted and presented at different times by artist, retired Presiding Judge Edward D. Hodge.
Hodge served 24 years as presiding judge with the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes Audrain, Montgomery and Warren counties. Since his retirement in 2001, the judge has replaced his gavel with a paintbrush, and says painting is his favorite pastime.
Several years before his retirement, Hodge gifted the eight portraits to the Audrain County Courthouse. The last portrait he painted was one of the Barnes brothers. The portraits of the five attorneys are located in the Division I Law Library Office, and the three judges are in the Circuit Court Division I Courtroom.
Hodge said he painted the portraits as tributes to each of the men and their service.
"All these men have died and I thought it would be something nice to do (in their honor)," the judge told The Mexico Ledger in a recent courthouse interview. Adams was Hodge's predecessor, Hollingsworth left Mexico and went on to the Missouri Supreme Court, and the seven attorneys were men Hodge had worked with as both an attorney and a judge. Hodge practiced 15 years with the Edward, Seigfried, Runge and Hodge Law Firm, that was located where the Leonatti Law Firm is currently on East Jackson Street.
Painting is a hobby Hodge said he picked up while serving in the United States Army, stationed in New York. He considers himself a self-taught artist. However the quality of the judge's work offers a much different impression.
"Painting is a relaxing hobby that I enjoy," Hodge said. "When I was in the Army in New York, there were painters among the Grants Village sidewalk people that would always be there and I took an interest in them."
The judge said he was in his 20s when he discovered his talent. Now soon-to-be 80, Hodge likes doing landscapes, and has also painted a portrait of his wife, Leta.
Using only photographs as his guide, Hodge said he worked on the courthouse portraits during evening and night hours, and that it only took a week or so to do each one.
Hodge doubts he will paint anymore portraits for the courthouse. His current project is a self portrait that he admits has been slightly altered. "I cheated a bit and added a little hair," he said laughing.
Hodge is an Illinois native who attended law school at Washington University in St. Louis, and did his undergraduate studies at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. Shortly after passing his bar, he was drafted and assigned to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, working in the legal office.
Page 2 of 2 - At the suggestion of his colonel, Hodge said he applied for and received a commission as a first lieutenant in the JAG Corp, working as a prosecutor. He served three years and in 1961 moved to Mexico – where his father, Edward C. Hodge, a retiree of the Illinois school system, had accepted a job at the Missouri Military Academy. He served as presiding judge from 1977 to 2001.
The Hodges have been married 52 years. The two met in judge advocate school at the University of Virginia, where Leta – a Virginia native – was attending graduate school. They have three grown daughters and five grandchildren.
Hodge says retirement has been good and that his work in the 12th Circuit was interesting enough that he never aspired to work anywhere else. "I was satisfied," he said.
Now, Judge Hodge's legacy as attorney, judge and now artist, will forever live on like the subjects in his paintings.