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The Presidential Palette

Creative flair of UND presidents – past and present – to be part of new exhibition on regional art

Mark Kennedy
UND President Mark Kennedy stands next to a replica of his painting he completed as a boy in the 1960s. The piece hangs outside his office on the third floor of Twamley Hall. Kennedy’s original canavas painting is on display at the UND Art Collections at the Empire Art Center along with art from past UND Presidents. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.


New exhibition at UND Art Collections at the Empire Arts Center — The Creative Impulse: Artists from North Dakota and the broader region

Free public reception: Tuesday, Feb. 28, from 4:30-7 p.m., at the Empire Arts Center.

Exhibition dates: Feb. 28 – April 12

The Story:

The creative side of five UND presidents, including sitting artist-in-chief Mark Kennedy, will be part of the next University of North Dakota Art Collections exhibition, opening Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks.

The new exhibition, The Creative Impulse: Artists from North Dakota and the Broader Region, invites viewers to contemplate whether the arts are just a frill or a necessary part of human life. While the exhibition is focused on works produced by professional artists, it also features examples of folk and self-taught art, demonstrating that the need for creative expression often extends beyond the professional art world.

A free public reception for the exhibition is set for 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Empire Arts Center. The exhibition will be available for public viewing Feb. 28 – April 12.

The show provides a historical overview of art from the region, highlighting paintings, works on paper, ceramics, photography, pieces in metal and fiber, and other mediums.

Some of those media encapsulate the energy and flair of UND’s past presidents, who at one time or another have felt creative impulses that drove them to make art — although none of them were formally trained as artists.

“I think the artistic talents that abound in the legacies of our UND presidents are remarkable and a wonderful tradition to which I am incredibly honored to contribute,” Kennedy said. “The UND Arts Collections at the Empire Arts Center certainly is the ideal venue for such a showcase of regional creativity.”

Robert Kelley, Charles Kupchella, George Starcher and Frank McVey are the other UND presidents, besides Kennedy, who have works of art featured in the new exhibition.

In addition to the art of UND presidents, the exhibition includes hats designed for theater costumes by current UND first lady Debbie Kennedy, whose works provide an interdisciplinary link with the Empire Arts Center’s commitment to the theater arts.

Costume hat by Debbie Kennedy
In addition to works from UND presidents and other regional artists, a new UND Art Collections display at the Empire Arts Center exhibition includes hats designed for theater costumes by current UND first lady Debbie Kennedy.

Presidential panache

In the spirit of Presidents Day, which we celebrated Monday, let’s aim more local and highlight a couple of past UND presidents that exhibited a flair for the artistic.

As UND’s fourth president (1909-1917), Frank LeRond McVey led the University through a transformational period, one marked with both considerable achievement and challenging circumstances.

At 39, he was the youngest person to be appointed president. His record would be one of great productivity and political skill, and a tremendous appetite for learning. McVey enjoyed literature, and he and his wife were active in a Sunday night poetry club. He had a strong interest in the University’s library and urged the purchase of a number of books on art.

McVey enjoyed a lifelong hobby of drawing and sketching. He was 50 when he took up oil painting while president of the University of Kentucky. He was known as a strong supporter of the arts there, including the Brush and Pencil Club. He contributed a painting to an exhibition for the Public Works of Art Project in 1934, during the Great Depression.

Coalmine to campus

Charles Kupchella can point to one of the most diverse backgrounds among those who have held the UND presidency. Raised in a Pennsylvania coal-mining family, he worked as a musician throughout college. His group made a record and once played backup to a touring American Bandstand dance group. He worked as a draftsman for a construction firm and also worked in the mines before his senior year.

Kupchella achieved distinction as a scientist, educator and academic administrator. Throughout his career he enjoyed pastimes in drawing, musical performance, and photography.

More about exhibition

Other featured works in the exhibition include traditional and contemporary Native American objects, paintings produced during the Great Depression for the federal government’s Public Works of Art Project, art with themes related to the region’s agricultural industry, historic UND pottery, as well as other art that illuminates the creative spirit within North Dakota and the neighboring region.

Curators of the exhibition include UND Events Coordinator Dawn Botsford, UND Art Collections Director Arthur Jones, Empire Arts Center Executive Director Emily Montgomery, and UND College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs. Curatorial assistance was provided by the UND Art Collections staff, including collections manager Peter Stevenson and graduate research assistants Emmalee Hazer and Sarah Heitkamp.

Partial funding for the exhibition was generously provided by The Myers Foundations.

Richard Larson contributed to this report.