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Lost: portraits from ASU's past

July 26, 2010

There are some missing people at ASU.

Seven, to be exact: Karl Dannenfeldt, Loretta Hanner, Horace W. Lundberg, Charles Stauffer, Morrison F. Warren and Lee Thompson.

Who on Earth are these folks?

They are the subjects of large oil portraits painted by noted Utah artist Alvin Gittins at ASU during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Under the leadership of G. Homer Durham, who was president of ASU from 1960 to 1969, Gittins painted portraits of 15 ASU leaders, including founding deans, presidents and vice presidents – and Durham, in his academic regalia.

Five of the portraits are in storage at Matthews Center, and four others are hung in campus buildings. But the rest are MIA.

The large portraits (approximately 54 by 36 inches) are being cared for by the ASU Art Museum, and they are classified as “un-accessioned,” which means that the museum tracks them, but does not catalogue them or show them.

The portraits are somewhat of a gift from Durham, who met Gittins in Kidderminster, England, when he served as a Latter-day Saint missionary there from 1933 to 1935.

Gittins graduated from the Kidderminster School of Arts and Crafts before coming to the United States to pursue further art studies at Brigham Young University. He graduated from BYU in 1947, then was appointed to the University of Utah art Department faculty.

He served as head of the university's art department from 1956 to 1962.

Durham had renewed his acquaintance with Gittins when they were both at the University of Utah, Gittins as a faculty member and department chair and Durham as was academic vice from 1953 to 1960.

According to the Dictionary of Art, published in 1980, Gittins was “a remarkably adept portraitist and figure painter who became the state’s most dominant figure in his chosen field.”

Gittins’ list of commissions is long, including famous people and not so famous people, from all walks of life, such as archaeologist Louis S.B. Leakey; Nobel Laureate Willard F. Libby of UCLA; Merle Park, prima ballerina of the Royal London Ballet; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; and Utah Gov. Scott Matheson.

Durham, according to his son, George Durham, was “committed to honor the history of Arizona State.”

Not only did he invite Gittins to come to Tempe to paint the portraits, from 1967 to 1972, he commissioned busts of Grady Gammage and Frank Lloyd Wright for the lobby of Gammage Auditorium.

In his journal entry of Oct. 15, 1967, Durham states, "We have commissioned sculptured busts to be made of Frank Lloyd Wright and Grady Gammage to be placed in the beautiful foyer of Gammage Auditorium.

“I suspect I have done as much to perpetuate the name of Grady Gammage in naming this great structure after him, and placing his bust here, together with that of Mr. Wright, than many other things that happened when he was alive."

George Durham noted, “Dad always had a great sense of history and remembering those who made present events possible.”

According to the Gittins biography compiled by the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah, which has eight artworks by Gittins in its collection, Gittins brought with him to the University of Utah “a powerful concept of Academic Realism to replace the still lingering effects of French Impressionism, already decades in the past.

“He chose academic methods to express simple truths about humans by way of the human face. He admonished students to ‘go beyond pretty rendering’ in their search for something authentic.”

The biography continues, “Gittins taught his students that the drawn portrait was more than a tool, that it was a work of art in itself. His portraits epitomize this approach. Although tightly conceived and rendered, they ‘glorify, document, speculate, and even validate’ the sitters.”

Gittins came to be regarded as “one of the most skilled portraitists not only in the state, but in the nation,” the Springville website notes.

The portraits in the ASU Gittins Collection include:

• George M. Bateman, the first faculty member with a doctoral degree to be hired at Arizona State Teachers College, who taught chemistry and physics.

• William J. Burke, vice president and dean of the Graduate College.

• Gilbert L. Cady, vice president for business affairs.

• Karl Dannenfeldt, dean of history and academic vice president.

• Loretta Hanner, founding dean, School of Nursing.

• Horace W. Lundberg, founding dean, School of Social Work.

•  L.M. “Mac” Myers, English Department chairman.

• Harry Newburn, President of Arizona State University from 1969-1971.

• Glen D. Overman, dean of the business school from 1956 to 1981.

• John Schwada, president of ASU, 1971-1981.

• Charles Stauffer, member of Tempe Normal School’s Class of 1901, first recipient of an honorary degree from ASU and namesake of the Stauffer Building on the Tempe campus.

• Morrison Warren, recipient of the first doctoral degree ever given by ASU – an Ed.D. in 1959. He also was the first vice president of the Alumni Association.

• Lee Thompson, founding dean of the College of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Gittins died in 1981, leaving a legacy of many talented artists who learned from him, numerous portraits and many other artworks, which are still selling for many thousands of dollars.

The portraits now in storage are in the process of being transferred to ASU Libraries for display. But, according to Vicki Coleman, associate university librarian, any department that finds one of the missing portraits is invited to hang it with pride in their own offices.