Profiles in Portraiture
By John Seibels Walker
This portrait was a very special project for me, as its subject was Vice-Chancellor John M. McCardell, Jr. of The University of the South (familiarly known as Sewanee), my alma mater. It was my wish for this portrait to convey his clarity of vision and sense of humanity during the 10 years that he served as Vice-Chancellor.
It is a Sewanee tradition for the Vice-Chancellor to be painted wearing the red cloak with ermine trim that is seen in this painting. Knowing that his attire was decided upon, our main challenge was to choose a setting for the portrait.
Vice-Chancellor McCardell is a professor of history with a keen interest and depth of knowledge in the period of history in which the University had its second founding ~ the years just after the Civil War. Therefore, we were interested in finding something that suggested that particular period of Sewanee’s history for the backdrop of his portrait. As luck would have it, there is a set of secular stained glass windows located in the vestibule of All Saints’ Chapel, the very heart of the University, that depict the history of the refounding quite beautifully. It is within this rather magical light that the portrait is set.
My intention with this portrait was to depict the Vice-Chancellor as a living part of the University’s history, almost as one of the historical figures seen in the stained glass window stepping forward and coming to life! In this way, he is depicted as part of what has been a continuum of distinguished Vice-Chancellors from the University’s initial founding to the current day. Within All Saints’ Chapel, there are also many commemorations carved into the stone recognizing the generosity and service of numerous families and individuals involved in the University’s development. I decided to employ my artistic license to add a similar touch to the stone depicted in the Vice-Chancellor’s portrait along side him to record his service in the same manner.
Artistically, I knew that the strong solid red of his cloak was going to be a major design factor in this portrait. Using the knowledge that the human eye has scientifically been shown to go first to anything resembling a face and to the color red anywhere in a painting, it was important that I use and balance the color red and all faces depicted in the painting to direct the eye of the viewer. In keeping with with my deliberate use of color and composition, I was also very careful in balancing the strong horizontal, vertical, and diagonal elements in this painting to create a sense of harmony and balance.
Ecce Quam Bonum
et Quam Incundum
Habitare Fratres in Unum!
Behold, How Good and Joyful it is
For Brethren to Dwell Together in Unity!
The Motto of The University of the South
The portrait is life-size, oil on linen, 53 x 36 inches. It is to hang in Dupont Library on the campus of the University of the South alongside several other portraits of previous Vice-Chancellors.