Gallery of Paintings in Montview Worth Over $1 Million Continues to Remind Viewers of Christ’s Life
When the paintings in the Montview Student Union Alumni Ballroom were first hung, Todd Smith, director and founder of Liberty University’s permanent art gallery, watched from a distance as two individuals stood reverentially in front of a piece of art depicting Christ’s crucifixion.
Smith watched as one of the two individuals began to weep.
“Can you imagine it? Can you believe someone did this to our Savior?” a woman mused through tear-choked words.
The 21-piece, life-size oil-on-canvas collection depicting the life of Christ hangs for its fourth year in the Montview Student Union Alumni Ballroom and is worth over $1 million.
“These pieces, painted by Robert Wilson Sr., were donated to Liberty in honor of the Thigpen and Day families in 2016,” Smith said. “Because they are about the life of Christ, the families knew Liberty would be an impactful location for the pieces to rest.”
Wilson was an accomplished self-taught painter for over 40 years of his life. Some of his paintings are featured in the South Carolina State House. According to Wilson’s art website, President Jimmy Carter observed the first 11 pieces of the collection during the 1978 National Prayer breakfast.
“Mr. Wilson was in the air force, and when he got out, he began his self-taught painting journey,” Smith said. “Like Rembrandt, Wilson’s painting style evolved… as time went on Wilson began to paint brighter photographs that emphasized realism.”
Ballroom, the first painting to the left is the lifelike image of the virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. Around the room, the paintings unfold, taking viewers on the journey of Jesus’ life, while making the circle around the entire ballroom, ending with the ascending Christ.
“Although Wilson focuses heavily on the entirety of the life of Christ, Christ’s crucifixion is very prominent in this collection,” Smith said. “A really special thing about these paintings is their accessibility; you can look at them and experience each segment of Christ’s life in painted realism.”
Over the past few years, Smith battled physical ailments like vision issues, spinal lesions and other health problems.
“There have been times when I just go in the room and look at these pieces,” Smith said. “The paintings spoke to what I was dealing with; on a personal level, despite all the suffering I’ve had, Christ knows. Christ too suffered and he is carrying my suffering even now.”
Smith said thousands of viewers engage with these paintings yearly.
“As the gallery director, it is incredibly fulfilling to know that these paintings are impacting lives,” Smith said. “You look at these pieces and it moves you to a point of reflection on an event that causes you to look deeply at the human experience and what Christ did out of love for humanity.”
To Smith, this collection ushers a spiritual experience to the community Liberty is seeking to cultivate.
“I’m thankful that the university has these,” Smith said. “Not many universities have a powerful biblical story collection like this one. The visual quality and content of the artwork brings so much to the community.”
Jessica Green is a Feature Reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @jessigreen0.