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Mary Lois Wheatley Presidential Endowed Chair Announced

The Mary Lois Wheatley Presidential Endowed Chair in Art and Art History was announced at the opening of the new Gittins Gallery earlier this spring.

The naming of the gallery was made possible by the generosity of the Wheatley family and their reverence for their mother’s painting passions. At a reception of the space, Mary Lois’s son Charles spoke to the packed crowd. He pointed back to the stunning portraits of his mom as he spoke about her love of painting as a way of expressing herself and seeing others. His admiration for her emanated like light from the podium.

Alvin Gittins Mary Lois
Mary Lois Wheatley, Alvin Gittins
Oil on canvas

Mary Lois’ artistic drive was fueled by her time at the U and acted as a springboard for her move to Manhattan to study at the prestigious Art Students League of New York. That’s where she met aspiring engineer, Jack Wheatley, who was studying at West Point Military Academy and who would go on to become the love of her life.

Their relationship blossomed, they married in 1952, and over the years, Mary Lois’ collection of portraits grew, illuminating those she loved most: their children, grandchildren, and her most beloved friends.

Dr. Anne Osborn, Distinguished Professor of Radiology at the U, is one of the latter. Dear friend of Mary Lois, Osborn is also deeply inspired by the arts. She spoke at the reception about the power and value of supporting creative and cultural pursuits.

Dr. Anne Osborn Poelman Mary Lois Wheatley
Dr. Anne Osborn Poelman
Mary Lois Wheatley
Oil on canvas, 1995

In another heartwarming tribute to the Wheatley matriarch, Osborn, along with the Wheatley family, established the The Mary Lois Wheatley Presidential Endowed Chair in Art and Art History — the first for the department — which was bestowed upon Department Chair, V. Kim Martinez.

The endowment signifies the considerable prestige of this academic appointment, illustrates the commitment on the parts of those whose philanthropy made it possible, and creates space for the new ideas that be pursued by the funding that becomes available when the Chair’s salary is forevermore funded.

“The dynamic environment created within the department is fertile ground for those serious about art-making, graphic design, research, critical discourse, and teaching,” Martinez said when she accepted her new role. “Our faculty are dedicated to excellence and providing an open, respectful center for diversity and creative expression. The department mentors students in innovation, critical thinking, craft, exploration, and create exciting opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.”

And now that place, both the physical and metaphorical, is even richer with potential, and will allow for more contemporary and experimental works to be created with an eye to future possibilities for artists — both students and professional — to grow and expand their research.

- Marina Gomberg