Hall of Presidents Rededication to Breathe New Life into History
Campus Group Uses Informal Meeting to Outline Hall’s Makeover
It’s an easy assumption that most of Moravian College’s campus community has ventured through the institution’s Hall of Presidents. However, it’s also likely many did so unknowingly.
With no formal signage, the significance of the hallway on Comenius Hall’s first floor, which houses a portrait of each person to hold the title of Moravian College president, is easy to overlook. With little context of who the portraits depict, the impact of the faces peering down on passersby can be lost.
In conjunction with formal installment of the president Bryon L. Grigsby ’90 in April, the College has begun steps to reorganize and breathe new life back into the Hall of Presidents.
The space will be formally rededicated on Friday, April 11, the evening before Grigsby’s inauguration ceremony. Included in the rededication will be the unveiling of former President Christopher Thomforde’s portrait, completed by artist Ellen Cooper this past fall.
In preparation of the rededication, a contingent of Moravian staff met Jan. 30 to discuss what steps would be appropriate for the space. Among those in attendance were: Jason Radine, associate professor of religion; Dave Leidich, assistant to the director of the Payne Gallery; Deborah Evans, assistant to the president for projects, events and board support; and Regina Gower, management assistant with facilities management, planning and construction.
The informal meeting kicked off with an overall of the current portraits, led by Radine. “In this gallery are paintings of everyone from the time the title of president existed for the men’s college,” he explained, noting the title came to fruition in 1858. “It starts with Lewis Kampmann and it is an unbroken succession until you get to Haupert.”
Additionally, former Presidents Roger H. Martin and Ervin J. Rokke are also accounted for.
Leidich gave an explanation for the absence of Raymond S. Haupert’s portrait, which was completed by Reginald Marsh, an American painter widely known for his depictions of life in New York City nearly a century ago.
“He was a pretty important painter, who people don’t often realize that,” Leidich explained. “Important” also means “valuable,” and Leidich estimated the Haupert portrait’s value stands at more than six figures. As a result, Haupert is tucked away safely in a vault on the Priscilla Payne Hurd Campus.
The group determined a canvas facsimile would be appropriate given the original’s value, with Leidich noting, “Nobody would likely be able to tell the difference.”
He was a pretty important painter, who people don’t often realize that.”
– Dave Leidich
The contingent touched on a series of other notes, including how to best label the portraits, how to arrange the images, and how to handle repairs – with most of the portraits needing TLC in one form or another.
Radine pointed out, “this is a high-transit corridor,” noting the scratches on the varnish, miscellaneous damage to the frames, and broken or missing name plates.
The group also briefly touched on how to appropriately recognize the heads of the women’s college, as well as the head mistresses of the 18th century female finishing school. The former likely has available portraits, though a search of the College’s database would take time.
It was determined a general plaque at the beginning of the Comenius Hall gallery will delve into the College’s history to give visitors more historical context and to provide some reference to the leaders of the women’s college and finishing school.
For Thomforde’s new portrait, the former president went through an extensive selection process to pick Cooper as artist, which included on-campus visits and several conversations.
According to Evans, Thomforde clicked with Cooper, who was “passionate about the people she painted and capturing their personalities in her work.” After conducting a photography session in spring 2013, Cooper got to work painting from the images she captured. Evans called the portrait process “quite interesting,” noting that it was “fascinating” to work with the Cooper.
Thomforde’s portrait, now completed, is being stored at an undisclosed location on campus until it’s unveiling.
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