The faces of the law
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Adrien Wing came to the University of Iowa College of Law for the first time in 1987 and was immediately struck by the portraits of past faculty members decorating the walls of the still-new Boyd Law Building.
“Throughout the lobby and hallways were many oil portraits of white males, some dead and some living, all emanating gravitas, wisdom, and power,” she says. “The portraits seemed to say, ‘We are important. We are the law. This is our world.’"
Those paintings and quite a few new ones still hang as part of a law school tradition honoring long-term faculty members with a portrait. Faculty who teach at the law school for 25 years—or have taught law for a total of 25 years with at least 15 of them at Iowa—can have their portrait painted if they wish.
“It creates a special sense of continuity in the law school, an understanding that even though the students are transient, the institution is permanent,” says N. William Hines, professor and dean emeritus. “By honoring long-time teachers, the portraits exemplify the values of the law school; they recognize people who have devoted their lives to teaching the law and who have thousands of alumni out there practicing law.”
Hines says the earliest portraits are of the law school’s founder and two early deans—founding dean Justice George Wright and deans Emlin McClain and William Gardner Hammond. Nobody knows how the law school came to acquire them, though.
“We’ve always had the three portraits, but we don’t know exactly where they came from; all three were painted in the 19th century,” says Hines, also the law school’s unofficial historian. Hines joined the faculty in 1962 and became dean in 1976, in time for his own portrait’s unveiling in 1980.
Some of the paintings have an interesting provenance. The portrait of Wiley Rutledge, who was dean in the 1930s before being appointed an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is a copy of his official portrait that hangs in the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
And the portrait of Professor Rollin Perkins caused a minor stir when it was unframed during its restoration not long ago to reveal the name Grant Wood written on the back. Hines says Perkins left the faculty in 1946 after a 30-year career, so the timing was such that it could have been painted by Wood when he was on the university’s art faculty in the 1930s. Follow up research, though, showed it was not the great Iowa artist himself who painted it.
“It was evidently painted by a student of his who worked in one of Wood’s studios in Iowa City or Stone City,” Hines says. “The name reflected the identity of the studio, not the artist.”
The law school now has about 30 portraits hanging on the first floor walls of the law building. Hines says the works do their best to reflect a bit of the personality of their subjects. The late long-time faculty member and Dean David Vernon was widely known for the bright red socks he wore every day, which are easily noticeable in his otherwise brown and green portrait.
The Rev. David Bayne was the only Catholic priest to work as a tenured faculty member of a public U.S. law school, so his portrait features his Roman collar.
And Patricia Acton directed the College of Law’s London program for many years and was married to the late Sir Richard, Lord Acton, a member of the British House of Lords. Those English connections are noted in the powdered wig in a corner of her portrait.
Hines’ own personal favorite is that of Dean Mason Ladd, a legendary dean, whose joy of life comes through in his painting.
“It conveys the warmth and humanity inherent in the man,” said Hines, who was initially hired by Dean Ladd.
Most of the late 20th century portraits were painted by the late Cloy Kent, an Iowa City artist whose traditional style fit well with the style of the earlier portraits. Since her death in the late 1990s, faculty members were encouraged to choose their own artists to paint their portrait, which has led to more varied styles. David Baldus, for instance, chose a portrait with sharp lines and flat colors, in the style of 1960s Pop art, while Wing chose her lifetime partner, artist and illustrator James Sommerville, to paint hers with a background reflecting her global interests.
The gallery has become more inclusive since Wing joined the faculty in 1987—professor Lea VanderVelde was the first woman to be painted, former librarian George Strait the first African-American. Wing’s portrait will be the first of an African-American woman when it’s unveiled Feb. 7.
“I’m proud because it shows the law school is bigger than any of us,” says Wing. “My portrait is a symbol of the people who served this institution and it honors those whose commitment made it what it is today.”