This spring, studio art professor Ron Abram (Tyler School of Art alumn and all-round cool dude) taught a course on portraits. For one project, he brought the class into the library to view the president’s portraits. Our President’s Room (which houses the scores), has a formal painting of each president. Ron asked students to choose a Denison president, research the person and the school during his/her term, and create a new portrait.
Students were able to view the president’s papers in our archives, which often included handwritten documents and photographs. Many students returned to the archives after the initial visit to spend more time examining the papers. As usual, when students get into an archive or special collection, they don’t want to leave!
Unfortunately, I was attending ARLIS/NA when this exhibit was installed and missed the reception. Luckily, the artwork will be staying in the President’s Room throughout the summer. I’m sure it will be a big attraction during Alumni Weekend in June!
Here are some of the works (some weird angles to account for horrible overhead lighting with the works under glass):
John Pratt (1831 – 1837) by Jason Gonzalez
Pratt was Denison’s first president. Jason writes that Pratt was a hard worker, helping his family on the farm at a very early age. But, because he loved to learn, Pratt stayed up late teaching himself math. In 1814 he was baptized and became very religious. At Denison he taught Greek and Latin as well as preached.
Samson Talbot (1863-1873) by Hollie Davis
Hollie says she chose “a president whose place in history perpetuated the disempowerment of people like me.” In her research, Hollie could not find evidence to place Talbot on one side or the other of the slavery issue. So, she portrays both free African Americans (on the left) and the colorless picking cotton with Talbot front and center.
Galusha Anderson (1887 – 1889) by Miaja St. Martin
Anderson served the shortest presidential term; he resigned after two years. Miaja says that “Anderson was against slavery and was passionate in his opinion that African Americans should be allowed an education in the north as free people.” According to Miaja, Denison University was a stop on the Underground Railroad and this is why she uses quilting in her portrait.
Emory Hunt (1901-1912) by Adam Rice
Adam notes that Hunt is credited with building Cleveland Hall, which is now Bryant Arts Center. He also “turned the school away from PhD programs towards the idea of an undergraduate liberal arts college.” Adam’s work notes the physical changes Hunt created on campus, but “the goal of the work is to drive curiosity” about the president.
Avery Shaw (1927-1940) by Kristie King
Kristie chose to research Shaw because he was president when her great-grandparents, Henry Henson (1929) and Isabelle Smock (1928) were students. Kristie actually found a photo of her great-grandfather in the archives! Kristie says the project allowed her to reflect on her personal legacy at Denison (she just graduated) and reconnect with her family’s history.
During his term, Good was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He hid his illness until the cancer forced him to resign and he died soon after. Janie represents Good through white cloth that “encases the ragged, diseased plastic sewn underneath.” The whole piece (not seen here) is over six feet, the height of Good.
Michele Myers (1989-1998) by Melissa Weinsz
Myers has been Denison’s only female president and she is still highly admired on campus. Melissa says Myers had dual citizenship, the US and France, and was bilingual. Her presidency was about “the promotion of racial and ethnic diversity on campus.” There was some tension during her term, with students protesting both racial inequality on campus and questioning the tenure procedures. Myers focused on “cutting the discrimination and division” on campus and made greek life non-residential.
Dale Knobel (1998 – 2013) by Jasmine Hwang
Jasmine interviewed Knobel by phone. During the conversation, Knobel said he wanted the portrait to suggest “how he contributed to the diversity of the campus and the improvement of campus facilities.” In this sculpture, each piece has information about Knobel’s presidency. The pieces can be re-formed to create various architectural shapes.
Adam Weinberg (2013 – present) by Katie Smith
Because Weinberg is our current president, he doesn’t yet have a formal portrait in the President’s Room of the library. Katie spoke with Weinberg and he told her that “one of his most important goals for his presidency was to create a better sense of community and school spirit on Denison’s campus.” Because of this, Katie wanted his portrait to reflect the community. The mirrored part of the portrait is surrounded by chalk paint so viewers can add their own reflections to the work.