Gallery at Chancellor’s Residence depicts WCU leaders, families

Western Carolina University’s past presidents and chancellors – and their families – are the subject of a new photography gallery unveiled recently in the Chancellor’s Residence, with members of the families of four former leaders of the institution on hand for the festivities.

The gallery is the brainchild of Susan Belcher, wife of current Chancellor David O. Belcher, who worked with members of several campus departments to conduct research, locate photographs, track down the names of spouses and children of past leaders, and document where they lived while serving WCU. The display spans 123 years of university history, from the institution’s founder, Robert Lee Madison, through the recently retired John W. Bardo.

“This is about celebrating Western Carolina University’s past. It’s also about chronicling the people who literally and figuratively have lived in this house,” Chancellor Belcher said during the event at the residence. The idea was to focus not just on the university’s presidents and chancellors but also on the women who served the institution with them, he said.

The pictorial essay documents Western Carolina leaders over the past 123 years and their families, and offers a glimpse of the domestic lives they led within the campus community they served. Historical photographs show each president or chancellor and members of his family, as well as a representation of what the campus environment was like during that leader’s term, Susan Belcher said.

The project involved staff and faculty members from Special Collections at Hunter Library, the Office of the Chancellor, Office of Public Relations and the School of Art and Design, she said. “It certainly took a village,” she said.

This photograph of WCU founder Robert Lee Madison is part of a new gallery in the Chancellor’s Residence that features the university’s past presidents and chancellors, and their families.

Attendees for the dedication ceremony included Jim Madison, grandson of the university’s founder, and his wife, Sara; Josie Robinson Bewsey, daughter of the late H.F. “Cotton” Robinson (chancellor from 1974-1984), and her husband, Jeff; Barbara Coulter, wife of the late Myron “Barney” Coulter (chancellor from 1984-1994), children Ben and Nan, and granddaughters Abby and Mary; and Sue Wakeley, wife of the late John “Jack” Wakeley (interim chancellor from 1994-1995).

In addition to officially opening the gallery of presidents and chancellors, the Belchers also unveiled a selection of artwork from the collection of the Fine Art Museum, which is on display in the residence.

“Art is really important to us,” Chancellor Belcher said. “But more than that, this is an opportunity for us to showcase the university every time we have people in the house. And we have people in the house all the time.”

The Belchers worked with Denise Drury, interim director of the WCU Fine Art Museum, and Greg McPherson, exhibition specialist, to select works to be displayed in the residence, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that there are 1,200 pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, he said.

“We have the luxury of living with this wonderful art every single day,” he said. “It makes a statement about this university to all who visit, about what it stands for, and about the great quality of our faculty and students.”

Selections from the museum and from the Collection of the Chancellor’s Office also are on display in the lobby area of H.F. Robinson Administration Building . A renovation project completed over the summer transformed the entrance hall into a gallery where pieces are displayed on the walls and in glass-covered pedestals.