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HEADS OF STATE REAGAN LIBRARY TO OPEN EXHIBIT OF GIFTS TO PRESIDENT.

Byline: ERIC LEACH Staff Writer

SIMI VALLEY - A stone rhinoceros from Kenya. A 20-pound ball of yarn. A portrait of President Reagan made entirely of butterfly wings.

These are some of the thousands of gifts given to Reagan during his presidency. And beginning Sept. 5, guests at his library in Simi Valley will be able to check them out for themselves.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is opening an exhibit made up of the gifts. Reagan actually received more than 100,000 gifts, the largest number up to that point in presidential history. Eighty percent of the gifts in the exhibit have never before been on display for the public.

The exhibit includes hundreds of things given to Reagan from people all over the word, including horseback-riding gear, sports collectibles, unique original creations and fine works of art.

There is a portrait of the president made of lapis lazuli with diamond eyes that give out a lifelike sparkle. And there's the one made of the butterfly wings.

There is a hand-woven wool American flag made by Navajo Indians, and paintings of the flag and the statue of liberty by American pop artist Peter Max.

``This is one of my favorite pieces in the show,'' said Thomas Thomas, curator of the latest exhibit, pointing out a lifelike wooden carving of a Komodo dragon given to Reagan in Indonesia.

Other figures include 12 busts of Reagan, which provides viewers a chance to pick the one they feel looks most like the real man.

``Looking at these gifts is a really good way of seeing how people felt about the president,'' said Melissa Giller, the library's director of communications. ``It's a side of the president you don't often see.''

Reagan was a former radio sports announcer, and the exhibit offers sports gifts, including a Louisville slugger baseball bat, a Secretariat horseshoe, Super Bowl memorabilia, boxing gloves and baseballs signed by Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Don Sutton.

There is a 20-pound ball of yarn made by a group of women whose goal was to bring attention to a White House conference on aging.

Another unique gift is Christopher the hitchhiker, a cutout wooden figure of a hitchhiker with a note on its chest asking motorists to carry it to the White House.

In 1981, it arrived carrying jelly beans and letters from elementary school children a week after it left a Montana school.

The exhibit also includes over 200 of the 372 belt buckles Reagan received as gifts while in office, and in keeping with Reagan's love of horseback riding there are six saddles, cowboy boots and a collection of spurs.

``By opening this exhibit to the public, we are displaying hundreds of items from inside our vaults, allowing library visitors to view the depth and scope of what President Reagan received,'' said Duke Blackwood, executive director of the Reagan Library and Foundation.

Gifts to the presidents belong to the federal government, and presidents are allowed to keep them as personal property only if they pay for them based on their appraised value.

About 25,000 of the gifts received during the Reagan administration were perishable and were sent to charitable organizations or otherwise thrown out.

eric.leach(at)dailynews.com

(805) 583-7602

IF YOU GO

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is at 40 Presidential Drive in Simi Valley. Admission is $12 for adults, $3 for children 11-17, and $9 for senior citizens 62 and older. Children 10 and under are free. For more information, call (800) 410-8354 or visit 222.reaganlibrary.com.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Reagan Library Curator Thomas Thomas, above, takes a close look at a painting displayed behind several busts of former President Ronald Reagan during the preview to the Gifts to the President exhibit. Below is a mural depicting the Old West, titled ``Rancho de Cielo.''

(3) Reagan Library Curator Thomas Thomas shows a desk shaped like the White House during the preview to the Gifts to the President exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

(4) Exhibit designer Rob Zucca, left, and Patty Marion bring in one of the many collections of saddles at the Reagan Library.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News

Box:

IF YOU GO (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 27, 2006
Words:715
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