September 13, 2016 : By Drew Menard
A 20-piece collection of paintings valued at more than $1 million were recently donated to Liberty University and are now displayed in the new Montview Student Union’s Alumni Ballroom. The massive oil on canvas paintings (most are 7-by-5 feet with some as large as 11-by-7) were created by artist Robert Wilson Sr. beginning in 1963 and focus on the life of Christ. The ballroom is open for viewings on Wednesdays from 2-4 p.m.
The paintings were donated to the Liberty University Permanent Art Collection in honor of Dr. Troy L. Day and in memory of the late Alton H. Thigpen. (Thigpen has a grandson, Garrett Thigpen, who is currently a student at Liberty.) Day and Thigpen, both from North Carolina, initially purchased about 10 paintings and were so moved by them that they commissioned the artist to complete the visual story of Christ.
“When my husband saw the paintings, he was overcome with emotion. They were the most wonderful paintings he had seen depicting the life of Christ,” said Rebecca Thigpen, Alton’s wife. “I think that Liberty is the place that they should be displayed. When students see them, they will mean a lot to them; they will have an understanding of the significance of the paintings.”
She added that Wilson, who is 95, is “extremely happy” that his paintings are displayed at Liberty and believes God had a plan from the beginning for them to end up here.
Steve Thigpen, son of Alton and Rebecca and father of a Liberty sophomore, said that the family, with Day’s blessing, wanted to find a place where the paintings could be displayed properly and appreciated.
“You can see Christ really come alive in the paintings,” he said. “With such a large platform for them at Liberty, I believe they can be seen and utilized to the fullest as a witness for the life of Christ.”
Wilson has been an accomplished painter for over 40 years. Some of his historical paintings are featured in the State House in Columbia, S.C. His life of Christ collection (when it was 11 pieces) was admired by President Jimmy Carter during the 1978 National Prayer Breakfast.
“I am so excited and thankful to the donors who gave this work,” said Todd Smith, director of the Liberty University Art Gallery. “It has been an honor to work with them and Liberty’s Development Office to learn why they want Liberty University to be the home for their art. Our goal from the beginning has been to feature the region’s and nation’s best and brightest art and artists. Because the permanent collection and gallery are a teaching extension of the School of Communication & Creative Arts, it will give students the unique opportunity to view excellent work firsthand. Artwork of this nature further extends the mission of the university in the sphere of the visual arts and culture.”
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell viewed the collection for the first time Tuesday morning.
“I was awestruck by the beauty and size of these paintings,” Falwell said. “The Alumni Ballroom had exactly 20 open wall spaces, one for each painting, even though it was designed and built before the works were donated. Liberty is a young university but, thanks to the generosity of our donors, is well on its way to establishing a world-class art collection.”
Liberty recently received more donations for its permanent collection. Over the summer, a donor gifted a handcrafted crucifix from renowned sculptor Gib Singleton, who is known for his work for the Vatican, including the bronze cross he crafted for Pope John Paul II’s crosier (staff).
Artist Sandra Bowden also donated four paintings from her collection. Bowden is a founding member of Christians in the Visual Arts who, along with her husband, Bob, are dedicated collectors of sacred art, and make their pieces available to churches, schools, and universities across the country through the Bowden Collections traveling exhibitions program. Bowden’s artwork is on display in the Liberty University Art Gallery through Oct. 16. The gallery is free and open to the public; visit Liberty.edu/ArtGallery for more information and current hours.