COLUMBUS, Miss. — An oil on canvas portrait thought to be Annie Coleman Peyton, one of The W’s founding mothers, has been returned to campus after a quest for its restoration that started more than 40 years ago.
The story starts with Alan Thurlow, who worked in New York prior to joining Mississippi University for Women in 1965 as a commercial artist instructor.
Because of his many connections in the art world, Thurlow was asked by Dr. Ralph Hudson, head of the art department at the time, to find someone who could restore the painting and find an antique oval frame for the portrait.
“No one wanted anything to do with it,” Thurlow said. “I tried several antique dealers and one agreed to find a frame.”
The antique dealer, whose information Thurlow no longer remembers, took Thurlow’s address and said he would send the painting to Thurlow after he finished it.
“I had forgotten about the picture,” Thurlow said, noting he received the painting in the mail about four years ago. “I have no record of the above dealer’s name. It was shipped from Washington, D.C.”
The painting sat in storage in Thurlow’s attic for about a year before he decided to deliver it to front campus with the attached note:
“I taught art for several years at MSCW/MUW and MSU and am now retired here in Columbus and would be happy to give the painting back to where it belongs (still without a frame). Thank you.”
The painting is now in possession of the President’s Office after being delivered to Richard White by Alex Stelioes-Wills, MUW professor of art. White, a conservator in Columbia, restored the oil on canvas portrait in less than a month.
Dr. Bridget Pieschel, MUW professor of English and director of the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy, and her husband, Stephen, MUW English professor emeritus, were charged with putting a name with the portrait. The two pored over the pictures and debated back and forth and came up with Peyton as their conclusion.
The portrait will soon be framed and housed in a prominent location on campus.