The 25 portraits were selected from a pool of nearly 150 that have been donated or loaned to the museum over the years, mainly by family members, according to Charles Morris, director of museums for the Division of Culture and History.
“When we realized what a rich collection we had accumulated of beautiful, very well done portraits of both historical and contemporary West Virginians, we knew it was time to put together an exhibit,” Morris said. “All of them appear in their original frames, some of which are as spectacular as the portraits they hold.”
Portrait artists whose work is on display run the gamut from self-taught West Virginians to internationally known painters from across the world.
The portrait of Julia Laura Jackson, Stonewall Jackson’s only child to live past childhood, was painted in 1870, when the girl was 8 years old, by Samantha Morgan of Winfield. The Jackson girl’s melancholy expression captured by Morgan seems to foretell the tragic end to her own life at age 26 from typhoid fever.
The oil on canvas portrait of Earl “Lightning” Harvey was the work of the late Lew Raines, a former Charleston Gazette photographer and self-taught painter. Raines’ portrait shows Harvey, who died in 1989, as a young man in his element — selling newspapers while directing traffic on a Charleston street corner. Harvey, who could instantly answer complex mathematical problems correctly, was dubbed the “Human Adding Machine” in a 1936 edition of “Believe It or Not.”
Another portrait by Raines, “Up the Elk,” features an unidentified, middle-aged beer-drinking couple relaxing at a tavern table.
Hanging from a wall next to Harvey’s likeness is a portrait of 19th-century coal operator James Otis Watson, considered the father of the coal industry in the upper Monongahela Valley, and a delegate to the Second Wheeling Convention, which created the framework for the new state of West Virginia.
James Anthony Wills, whose oil portraits of Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon hang on the walls of the East Room stairway in the White House, is represented in the exhibit with an oil-on-Masonite portrait of cigarette-clenching Walter S. Hallanan, a former Huntington Herald-Dispatch editor who later served as state tax commissioner and the chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1952.
French-born portrait artist Alphonse Jongers, whose work also appears in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, produced the exhibit’s portrait of Mary Louise Tarr Chilton, wife of U.S. Sen. William Edwin Chilton, D-W.Va., and the grandmother of the late Gazette publisher W.E. “Ned” Chilton III.
In 1840, an unknown artist painted the oil portrait of Edward Thomas of Wheeling, a member of the family that founded the Stone & Thomas Department Store chain, as well as the portraits of Thomas’s wife, Catherine, the daughter of Revolutionary War heroine Elizabeth “Betty” Zane, and the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth. The three portraits hang side by side in the exhibit.
German-born artist Jules C. Adler was commissioned by the state in 1907 to complete portraits of 23 key figures from West Virginia history. “He completed them all by 1915, and then died,” Morris said.
Adler’s charcoal-on-paper rendition of David Hunter Strother, the bearded Martinsburg native who wrote and illustrated for such magazines as Harper’s Monthly under the pseudonym “Porte Crayon”and served as chief of staff for his cousin, Union Gen. David Hunter, during the Civil War, is a part of the State Museum exhibit.
Other West Virginians whose portraits are on display include Gen. John Jay Jackson, the West Point graduate and Virginia Militia general who voted against secession in 1861, and Henry David Ruffner, the early Kanawha Valley settler who organized the first Presbyterian church in Charleston, served as president of Washington University in Virginia, and authored the anti-slavery “Ruffner Pamphlet” prior to the Civil War.
Also on display are the likenesses of Peter Ballard, a Welch-born artist who now makes period fashion dolls in his Peterstown home; former state poet laureate Louise McNeil Pease; Mothers Day founder Anna Jarvis; William W. Sanders, West Virginia’ s superintendent of black schools in the era that preceded Brown v Board of Education; and Dorothy Jean “DJ” Schroeder, the long-time WSAZ-TV weather reporter who died in 2013.
The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.