A colossal portrait head of Marian Anderson, internationally acclaimed contralto, from Alan LeQuire’s Cultural Heroes series was the centerpiece of an event honoring Tom Brumbaugh and Olen Bryant on June 24 at the Portland Public Library of Sumner County, Tennessee. Friends from across the region came to pay tribute to their generosity and passion for the arts over the years.
Brumbaugh, professor emeritus of fine arts at Vanderbilt until his death in December 2011, and Bryant, accomplished sculptor and professor emeritus of art at Austin Peay State University, moved from Clarksville to the Portland area in 1998. They soon became ardent supporters of the library, attending Friends of the Library meetings and donating artifacts to the annual silent auction. They generously contributed to the expansion of the original 6,700 square foot library into a newly remodeled 20,000 square foot building, formally dedicated in September 2011, and Brumbaugh bequeathed $50,000 to The Portland Area Library Foundation to be used as an endowment.
“Without the dedication of Tom and Olen, our library would be lacking in so many ways,” said Barbara Russell, director of the Portland Library. “Their generosity will benefit the people of the area through our library for years to come.”
Bryant, who received the Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award in 2007, continues to prepare intriguing topical exhibits for library patrons in the handsome display cabinets he donated. One of his sculptures in his innovative, signature style graces the façade of the library overlooking a courtyard and garden being built in honor of these two men.
As a memorial to Brumbaugh, Bryant commissioned LeQuire, a Vanderbilt alumnus who had studied art history with Brumbaugh and sculpture with Puryear Mims, to cast in bronze the portrait head of Anderson for the Portland Library. LeQuire sculpted the singer in “a moment of performance, striving to infuse the clay with a living presence” rather than creating a strictly realistic likeness. Insight into a personality, he said, is revealed “through movement sensed through posture and passion projected through expression.”
With the Cultural Heroes series, “I wanted to create larger-than-life portrait heads in clay that would affect the viewer with their beauty and presence,” LeQuire said. “I am interested in real people whose art succeeded despite obstacles. This early twentieth-century group represents the great contributions of the artists who were the grandparents of the Civil Rights movement.” Celebrated for her historic open-air performance in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, Anderson was banned from American concert halls until she was 58 because of the color of her skin.
LeQuire, internationally renowned for his monumental sculptures of Athena Parthenos in the Nashville Parthenon and Musica, nine dancing figures in a circular composition, on Music Row, was recognized at the event and spoke individually to guests as they viewed the bronze sculpture of Anderson. Other cultural icons represented in the Cultural Heroes series are Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Huddie Ledbetter (“Lead Belly”), Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Josh White, with Louis Armstrong nearing completion. An exhibition of these portrait heads in clay had provided a lovely accent for the library’s formal dedication last fall.
“Viewed as the Pied Piper of the department of fine arts, Tom Brumbaugh was much beloved by his students and early on received the prestigious Madison Sarratt Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching,” said Hamilton Hazlehurst, professor emeritus of fine arts and longtime chair of the department, who attended the event with his wife, Carol, and other representatives from the department.
“He was always alert to and respectful of the problems of others, and his wise counsel was often sought, as witness the continual stream of those waiting outside his office. Generous to a fault, he contributed substantially to the department’s permanent study collection with objects he had acquired over the years. Tom was indeed the gentleman scholar. May his many contributions endure forever.” ~Fay