How Ross Perot’s Legacy Lives on Through Art
Emily Summers decorated the Perot family’s Dallas office, which features works by Norman Rockwell, Laura Wilson, Paul Jenkins, and Harvey Quaytman
When Ross Perot passed away in July, over 1,300 people gathered in Dallas to mourn a man who embodied the American Dream. Born in 1930, the billionaire Texas tycoon may have been diminutive in stature, but he loomed large over the national political consciousness for decades due to his outspoken patriotism, philanthropy, and anti-war advocacy. Perhaps most famously, Perot fueled his spirited 1992 presidential campaign by invoking the populist values of Norman Rockwell’s America—and ended up receiving nearly 20 million votes.
During his life Perot founded two major tech companies, Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems, the latter of which was acquired by Dell in 2009 for $3.9 billion. He also presided over the Perot Group, which encompasses the family office (Perot’s five children worked with him) and their investment operation, as well as various portfolio companies. (His only son, Ross Jr., also started Hillwood, a big-ticket real estate developer.) Totaling roughly 300 employees, these operations were for years scattered throughout north Texas.
But in 2014, Perot wanted to consolidate everyone into one headquarters and tapped Seattle architecture firm Mithun as well as local outfit BOKA Powell to devise a 170,000-square-foot structure on a six-acre parcel in the heart of Dallas. To decorate the three-story glass-and-limestone edifice, they enlisted one of the city’s leading interior designers, Emily Summers, who is lauded for her masterful ability to create distinctive spaces accented with blue-chip art.
“Our office’s past work with Ross Perot Jr. inspired a request to do the finishing details and also the public spaces, the lobby, and the personal family offices,” says Summers. “We worked closely with all five second-generation family members,” she adds. “They put a lot of trust in us.”
Save for some works from Perot’s former personal office (including a portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stewart and Norman Rockwell’s Breaking Home Ties), Summers built the art collection from scratch, sticking largely with contemporary and 20th-century pieces.
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“We tried to find things that reflected the interests of the family and the company,” she explains. “American Flag at the entrance is a reference to the family’s patriotism. Each flag represents a different property that the Perots have been involved with. The photographer who made it, Laura Wilson, is enormously talented. She was able to edit the film to make it into one large flag.”
Some of her favorite works include a grouping of abstract canvases by late American painter Harvey Quaytman. “He’s an underrecognized artist, and the pieces do a wonderful job of carrying that long horizontal wall in the family reception area,” Summers says. Another piece she loves is Denain by American abstractionist James Brooks, which hangs in the boardroom foyer. “Brooks painted with the best of them, and he also went to my alma mater, Southern Methodist University, so it was great to be able to place him in this project.”
The hardest procurement was for the boardroom itself, which required finding something that would balance the 28-seat conference table. “I was in Palm Springs and ran into the Paul Jenkins piece that’s now on the wall,” she recalls. “Ross Perot Jr.—who is a pilot and lover of all things flight related—immediately saw it as a jet stream. One of his sisters saw an iris in bloom. Everybody has a vision of what the painting meant to them. As a designer, the painting is interesting because it was in the Elrod House by John Lautner, as well as in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. It has a design history that resonated in this modern building with this wonderful family.”
The building is also significant as repository of Perot-related memorabilia. “When Ross Sr. moved into the building, they created his office exactly like the one he was leaving because he was so fond of it,” says Summers, noting that there’s also a so-called Legacy Hall, curated by Andy Anway, and brimming with family photos, awards, books, flags, and other ephemera sourced from the family’s 100,000-piece archive.
There’s even a 1929 Dodge like the one from Perot’s youth, a faithful re-creation of his father’s cotton office, a cane that once belonged to Osama bin Laden, a tin cup smuggled out of the notorious Hanoi Hilton camp in Vietnam, and one of the original flags from the U.S.S. Constitution.
“Our whole office was just in awe of the family itself and the incredible way they participated in every decision and were interested in doing things on an A-plus level,” says Summers. “The building is really a lasting tribute to him from all of his children.”