Curry, a lifelong District resident, was so fixated on her daughter being fixated on the portrait that she didn’t see a man to the side taking a cellphone photo of the moment — Parker in utter awe, her mouth agape.
The next morning, Curry said, her phone “blew up.”
The man to the side — 37-year-old Ben Hines, who was in town from North Carolina visiting his parents in Alexandria — posted the photo on Facebook. It went really, really viral. And suddenly, little Parker went from being a little difficult to being more than a little famous.
The photo, taken Thursday, has been shared, liked, tweeted, retweeted and Instagrammed thousands of times around the world. Obama reacted with not one but three heart-eye emoji.
Many of those who responded to the photo said they were inspired by Parker’s reaction.
“This is what America is all about,” tweeted an Atlanta man. “This young girl can now dream about being someone like Michelle Obama.”
Tweeted another: “I needed to cry over something beautiful instead of crying over frustrating news.”
The striking portrait of Obama — in a long, flowing dress against a light blue background — was painted by Baltimore artist Amy Sherald, who was chosen by the former first lady.
“The first lady inhabits a world of calm, clarity and Wedgwood-hued enlightenment,” Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott wrote.
At her portrait’s unveiling Obama said she was thinking of little girls — and girls of color, “who in the years ahead will come to this place and see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of a great American institution. . . . And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”
Parker’s mother said she was amazed at the attention the photo has received.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Curry said Sunday.
Parker, in her less than 36 months alive, has become a big admirer of the former first lady. She especially enjoyed seeing Obama dance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” After seeing the portrait, Parker thinks Obama is a “queen.”
(Curry is not certain her daughter knows that Michelle’s husband is former president Barack Obama or that he even exists.)
That a little girl could be in such awe of the former first lady was precisely what Hines wanted to capture in taking the photo.
“It was a moment of awe and inspiration,” Hines said. “I was just lucky to be there for it.”
Hines, visiting the gallery with his mother, tried to find Curry later, but lost her in the crowds. He shared the photo on Facebook hoping the Internet might turn up Parker’s mother. Hines wanted to send her the photo himself and tell her how moved he was.
The image traveled fast.
Hines’s friends and family admired and shared the photo not realizing he took it. Meanwhile, Curry couldn’t figure out what was happening. She barely uses social media.
She asked her sister, who was with her that day, if she had taken the photo and posted it. Nope. Eventually, with help from more digitally savvy friends, Curry figured out a guy named Ben Hines took the photo. Then someone who knew her tagged her on Hines’s Facebook post.
They spoke on the phone.
“It was a wonderful conversation,” Hines said. “It’s just a wonderful and very hopeful thing that happened.”
So, how is Parker dealing with the sudden fame?
For starters, she’s staying humble.
She didn’t throw a fit when her grandmother called her “a star,” but she made clear that talk wasn’t for her.
“I’m not a star,” she said. “I’m a big girl.”