January 27, 2004
Phone: (504) 865-5714
Spirits from Tulane's distinguished history, brought to life in oil on canvas, gaze down from the walls of Gibson Hall.
The collection of portraits of past presidents of Tulane, and of its predecessor, the University of Louisiana, is a fascinating visual record of the leaders who from generation to generation have molded the institution.
A new painting, the latest in the series, has been presented to the university and will soon join the others--but there is a major difference between it and the others.
The new painting depicts former president Eamon M. Kelly, who is now professor of international development and technology transfer at Tulane's Payson Institute. But, strikingly, the painting is not of Eamon Kelly alone--it also portrays his wife, Margaret W. Kelly.
"This is extremely significant," says Julie Nice, assistant vice president for university program development. "Knowing the history of this institution as I do, I know that the first ladies have been a very important part of the presidential team, and in many cases have had quite extraordinary roles. But this is the first time it has ever been recognized for posterity."
Margaret Kelly was active in many projects as first lady during her husband's 17-year tenure, from 1981 to 1998. In addition, she earned a degree from Newcomb College in 1985, graduating summa cum laude. Official portraits of presidents are typically done after they resign. When Kelly stepped down from the presidency, an endowed chair honoring him was established, but a portrait was not immediately commissioned.
Yvette Jones, senior vice president for external affairs, started the ball rolling for having an official portrait of the former president done, and Nice headed the effort to choose an artist. "We seriously looked at about four artists, three locally and one from New York," says Nice. "I hope it's not an unfair generalization, but portrait artists really enjoy people--and because of that, they'll talk your ear off."
In the end, however, the search focused on local artists at the suggestion of Robert H. Boh, who served as Tulane board chair in 1988-93. Boh headed the fundraising effort for the portrait. "After we talked a couple of times, Robert Boh told me he really wanted to use a local artist," says Nice. "He felt that was the most important thing to do, and I personally felt that was right."
After looking hard at a number of notable New Orleans-based artists, the selection committee chose portraitist Jean Seidenberg. Seidenberg, a nationally recognized artist, has been commissioned to do other works for Tulane. He painted the portrait of Lindy Boggs, which is on display at the Lindy Boggs Center for Energy and Biotechnology. He also produced a painting of Ray Haddad, a former chair of the orthopaedics department, and a bronze sculpture of George Burch, a former chair of the Department of Medicine. These works are exhibited at the medical school.
The idea of including both the former president and his wife was first broached by Kelly himself, according to Nice. "When I first came to tell him that we were going to get an artist to do his official presidential portrait, he gave a little thought to it and asked if it would be possible to put Margaret in there also," recalls Nice. "He was being really quite careful with that, not wanting to assume too much."
Nice inquired all the way up to President Scott Cowen if this was a possibility, and got the go-ahead to proceed. "The first ladies have had a tremendous impact going way back, but this is the first time a president has said, 'I would like to move away from past practice here to do something different, perhaps even start a new tradition.' And it's a very appropriate thing to happen," says Nice.
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