Portrait of chancellor unveiled, to be added to presidential gallery

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and first lady Susan Belcher take a look at his portrait painted by Virginia artist Steve Craighead.

A future addition to Western Carolina University’s gallery of presidential portraits was unveiled for the first time Thursday, Feb. 23, as the WCU Board of Trustees got a sneak peek at the recently completed likeness of Chancellor David O. Belcher.

Belcher’s portrait eventually will be displayed in WCU’s Hunter Library along with the portraits of previous presidents and chancellors of the university

A resolution approved by the Board of Trustees in 1981 established as university policy that a portrait of each WCU chief executive officer be commissioned and added to the gallery. It is up to each chancellor to decide when his or her portrait will be added to the gallery; it is Belcher’s preference that his portrait not be included in the gallery while he is in office.

The Belcher portrait is the work of Steve Craighead, an award-winning artist whose works have won numerous honors at Portrait Society of America competitions. Based in Manassas, Virginia, Craighead has completed portraits for leaders in the corporate, political, business and educational sectors. Among his subjects are former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore and Tom Ross, former president of the University of North Carolina system.

The portrait commission process was guided by three members of the WCU staff – Mark Haskett, director of photography and videography services; Denise Drury Homewood, executive director of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center; and Terry Welch, former assistant to the chancellor, who retired last August.

“We wanted to identify someone that we thought could portray the personality of our chancellor,” Haskett said. “We needed someone who could capture the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the joy of life in general that David Belcher exhibits each and every day.”

The university’s presidential portrait project began in the late 1940s as the brainchild of librarian Lilian B. Buchanan. The institution’s first five leaders – Robert Lee Madison, Alonzo Carlton Reynolds, Hiram Tyram Hunter, Paul Apperson Reid and William Ernest Bird – were immortalized via paint and canvas during the project’s initial phase.

The project hit a 13-year hiatus before the 1981 Board of Trustees action formalizing into policy the lapsed tradition of commissioning portraits of the institution’s top leader. Portraits of Alexander Simpson Pow, Jack Kenneth Carlton, H.F. Robinson and Myron L. Coulter were commissioned and unveiled in 1986. A portrait of Frank Hamilton Brown, who served two stints as acting president and chancellor for the institution, joined the gallery in 1993.

Portraits of John H. Wakeley (interim chancellor from 1994 to 1995) and John W. Bardo were commissioned in 1996.

The portraits are paid for through private donations. No state funds are used for artist commissions or expenses.