By Marlon W. Morgan
Starting Friday, March 3, if the central stairwell in Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library looks like it’s missing something, it’s because it will be.
The portraits of each chancellor or president that has served at the university, including acting and interim chancellors and presidents, will be removed from the stairwell walls to be digitized for an online chancellor’s portrait gallery.
It is a project recommended by WCU’s Public Art Committee and approved by the university’s Executive Council.
“The benefit of having the portrait available online are twofold,” said Liz Harper, special and digital collections librarian. “First, they can be viewed any time, by any person, in any location, as opposed to needing to physically come to the campus library to see them. Additionally, the online portraits will be accompanied by contextual and biographical information about each chancellor, making opportunities for more meaningful connection.”
Early in the 20th century, WCU’s Board of Trustees directed the school to create a portrait of each president, and chancellor’s as they were called after joining the University of North Carolina System, that has served the institution. Most of the portraits are formal oil paintings, but in 2018, the Board of Trustees began an effort to modernize them with formal photograph portraits.
Former interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar was the first to be photographed. Current Chancellor Kelli R. Brown will soon have hers taken.
The process of digitizing the portraits require the University Photography team to take high resolution photographs of each portrait. Once completed, instead of the portraits returning to the walls of Hunter Library, they will become part of a rotating historical exhibit displayed in the fifth-floor lobby of the H.F. Robinson Administration Building. Meanwhile, Hunter Library will be outfitted with new storage space for the portraits not currently displayed.
“It’s going to be a way to celebrate university history and yet we’ll have this new opportunity online in a way that makes them even more accessible,” said Melissa Wargo, WCU chief of staff.
The project is a joint effort between the Chancellor’s Office, the Public Art Committee, the WCU Fine Art Museum, Hunter Library and the Mountain Heritage Center.