Published September 22, 2016

Hall of Presidents

Poling Hall’s Morgan Room gets a facelift, literally
  • A portrait of fifth Monmouth College president James Harper Grier (foreground) is one of 13 oil paintings gracing the College’s new Hall of Presidents in Poling Hall.
After 138 years of migrations, the oil portraits of Monmouth College’s presidents have been assembled for the first time in a formal gallery.

Located in the Morgan Room of Poling Hall, the new Hall of Presidents takes advantage of the room’s unusual semicircular shape, which was originally designed to accommodate book shelving when it was constructed as the Carnegie Library in 1907. In a 1996 renovation, the room was fitted with oak wainscoting beneath nine tall windows, providing an elegant and well-lit gallery space.

“This is a magnificent setting for the portraits,” said College historian Jeff Rankin, who suggested the location and supervised the hanging of the paintings. “For the first time the paintings can be viewed in a clear chronological sequence and at a height that gives them the dignity they deserve.”

Over the decades, the portraits, which today total 13, have been hung in various campus venues – and not always together.

“The first three portraits, of Presidents Wallace, J.B. McMichael and Lyons, originally hung in the chapel of Old Main and were moved to the current chapel in 1897,” Rankin said. “After the number of former presidents grew to six in 1964, there was no more wall space in the chapel, so portraits of later presidents were displayed in Hewes Library.”

A chapel renovation in 1980 moved the portraits of the first six presidents to the Wallace Hall lobby. When Hewes Library was renovated in 2001, the five portraits hanging there joined the six in Wallace Hall.

“At that time, we had bronze plaques created for the newer portraits to match the antique plaques under the early portraits,” Rankin said.

The portraits were finally in one location, but when two more were added, wall space became an issue.

“We actually had portraits hanging on five different walls, in a chronology that was broken by a wall of plaques recognizing notable alumni,” Rankin said. “In addition, lighting was very poor and the portraits were displayed lower on the walls than would be ideal.”

A suggestion by Monmouth College First Lady Lobie Stone to repurpose Wallace Hall lobby initiated the idea to create a Hall of Presidents in the Morgan Room. A professional interior designer with an academic background in the fine arts, Stone envisioned converting the lobby into a dynamic space for displaying student and faculty art.

To further enhance the Hall of Presidents, Rankin is preparing wall labels that will contain brief biographical sketches of each president, noting their key achievements. The room will become a stop on the admission tour.

“The portraits not only help tell the history of our institution, but they have interesting stories in themselves,” Rankin said. “The portrait of first president David Wallace was painted by Henry E.C. Peterson, a prominent Chicago artist from Sweden, who also painted such notables as Brigham Young and members of the McCormick family. The seven most recent portraits were all painted from life over the course of nearly 50 years by Gay Griffin Riseborough, a wonderfully talented artist in Evanston, Ill.”   Monmouth College Presidents:

David Alexander Wallace (1856–1878)
Jackson Burgess McMichael (1878–1897)
Samuel Ross Lyons (1898–1901)
Thomas Hanna McMichael (1903–1936)
James Harper Grier (1936–1952)
Robert W. Gibson (1952–1964)
G. Duncan Wimpress Jr. (1964–1970)
Richard Dengler Stine (1970–1974)
DeBow Freed (1974–1979)
Bruce Haywood (1980–1994)
Sue Ann Huseman (1994–1997)
Richard F. Giese (1997–2005)
Mauri A. Ditzler (2005–2014)
Clarence R. Wyatt (2014–present)   Portraits of the Presidents of Monmouth College   During Homecoming 2016 weekend, an open house of the portraits will be held from 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1. 
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