Monday, June 17, 2019

William George Randall: Campus Artist

William G. Randall
William Randall (1860-1905) only spent a short time on the campus of the State Normal and Industrial College, now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), but while he was at the school he created portraits of some of the most important people of the college and the state. Randall’s early life in the mountains of Burke County, North Carolina spanned the years of the Civil War. At a young age he showed a precocious talent for drawing, but had little training. He attended school sporadically and made extra money sketching portraits of his Burke County neighbors.

Committed to furthering his education, he walked out of the mountains and arrived at the University of North Carolina in the fall of 1880 with 30 cents to his name. At the University, he began to draw portraits of the people in Chapel Hill, fellow students, and professors. Although he was described as thin, pale, and unassuming, other students took note of him - one of those students was Charles Duncan McIver, founder and first president of the State Normal and Industrial College.  After college, he took several positions in local schools and it was at this time that he met his wife, Annie J. Goodloe of Warrenton, North Carolina. Soon he realized that he preferred art to a career in education. He studied in New York, England, France, and Germany and had a studio in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC, specializing in portraiture.

Sarah Bailey
Randall's path would cross that of McIver once again when his wife, Annie, took a job at the State Normal and Industrial College in 1898 as the school Registrar. Randall had completed a few paintings for the college and he soon had a small studio in the attic of the current Foust Building. He painted several notable people who had a direct impact on the school; including a life-size portrait of McIver.

In addition to his many commissions, Randall worked with the students. Several years after he arrived on campus, he offered to set up a full art program at the college, but there is no indication that his offer was accepted. This may be because of general ill health. Randall had been diagnosed with tuberculosis at a young age and it was about this time that he was sent to New Mexico for the beneficial climate. Randall rented a small adobe house on the outskirts of the city and planned to use it as a residence and studio but he soon returned to North Carolina. On December 11, 1905, he died at Blowing Rock and his body was taken to Washington DC for burial in Glenwood Cemetery.

Evelyn Bailey
Ultimately, Randall’s legacy is not only as one of the most  famous 19th century North Carolina portrait artists, but also as an early advocate of the importance of formative art (architecture, sculpture, and painting) to a liberal education.  On June 23, 1896, he gave an address on the subject before the North Carolina Teachers’ Assembly in Asheville. Interestingly, Randall’s speech included his belief that women had a more highly developed sense of color and felt it was possible that the “early man” who attempted to “imitate” the world around them through painted images – may have actually been early woman. He was committed to the equality of arts and sciences within the liberal arts curriculum and this may have been one of the reasons that McIver found him a kindred spirit.

Sadly, few of Randall’s painting survive on the UNCG campus. Through the years, they have been donated to other institutions or lost as original school buildings were razed or remodeled. Life-size portraits of Charles Duncan McIver and Jabez Curry remain on campus, exhibited in the Curry Building Auditorium. Additionally, his beautiful painting of Lula Martin McIver can be viewed at the Alumni House on College Avenue.  Portraits of Sarah and Evelyn Bailey (students who succumbed to the 1899 typhoid epidemic) and philanthropist George Peabody are housed at the University Archives and may be viewed by appointment.

Monday, June 10, 2019

State Normal Students and the Push to Improve North Carolina's Public Schools

In the late 1800s, the state of education in North Carolina was bleak. The illiteracy rate was 36% (compared to 14% nationwide). Per pupil spending on education was one of the lowest in the nation, and the average teacher's salary was less than $24 per month - about half the national average. The school year was only 60 days (compared to an average of 135.7 across the United State). In an 1883 report, North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction John C. Scarborough placed much of the blame on the lack of proper teaching (also known as "normal") training. Scarborough wrote, "The larger number of teachers of the public schools [are] non-progressive, knowing nothing of any studies except such as they had imperfectly learned at the ordinary schools and nothing of the improved methods of teaching ... They were simply school keepers, nothing more."

First graduating class of State Normal and Industrial School, 1893
With the chartering of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) by the General Assembly in 1891, North Carolina politicians and educators created an institution specifically aimed at training female teachers for public schools in the state. When the doors to the school opened on October 5, 1892, 176 students enrolled to learn how to teach and improve the state's educational opportunities. In fact, of the 717 women who graduated from the school during its first 22 years, all but 33 went on to teach for some period of time in North Carolina public schools.

While the students were learning how to improve their teaching, the graduates were still being forced to teach in sub-par facilities - often one-room wooden school houses which educational leader James Y. Joyner deemed to be "a lion in the path of rapid progress." A 1902 address to the student body by the institution's founding president Charles Duncan McIver particularly struck the students. He stridently urged them to "labor as mothers and teachers to provide education" in the state. As a result, they formed an organization known as the Woman's Betterment Association, a group which sought specifically to improve North Carolina school buildings.

No. 2 Williamsburg schoolhouse (Rockingham County, NC), late 1800s
The motives which led the students of State Normal to organize the Woman's Betterment Association are best expressed in one of their early informational bulletins: "Realizing that under present condition, and with the present surroundings of the average school-house, it is impossible to train the youth of the state properly, and realizing further, that unless the women of the state take hold of this very important matter it will remain neglected, the students of the college have organized themselves and call upon the other women of the state to join them in making attractive and habitable the houses in which our children spend five days of each school week."

With the Woman's Betterment Association leading the charge, educational leaders across the state were charged with examining existing schoolhouses and making recommendations for improvements (or replacements). Viola Boddie, a charter faculty member at State Normal and head of the department of Latin, was one of the professionals sent to survey the educational landscape. She recalled "traveling around the state in an open buggy, pulled by a mule, observing rustic schools with spaces between the logs wide enough to 'throw a cat through if not a dog.'"
New No. 2 Williamsburg schoolhouse (Rockingham County, NC), 1906

Only four years after the creation of the Woman's Betterment Association, 1,133 new school buildings were constructed in rural areas across North Carolina at a cost of $490,272. The total value of the entirety of public school property across the state almost doubled in that short four-year period. According to a 1906 state report, these improvements were a direct result of the work of the members of the Woman's Betterment Association, who "became effective lobbyists for every educational case." The work of the Woman's Betterment Association effectively demonstrated the political savviness of its membership, more than a decade before they were allowed the right to vote.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Water Tower on Campus


If you ever walked through the western end of campus, you may have noticed an enormous water tower that rises above the dormitories, commercial businesses, and shade trees.  Located near the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, the tower is situated on Oakland Ave between Josephine Boyd and Kenilworth streets.  The tall structure is adorned with the school’s logo and its sports mascot.  The images are painted in the school’s colors of blue and gold.  Serving as an important visual landmark for the school, you might be surprised to learn that the water tower is not actually owned and maintained by the university.  How did this structure become woven into the visual landscape and collective memory of the school?

The water tower is owned and operated by the city of Greensboro.  It is part of a city network of eleven water towers that provide water to residents, businesses, and the municipal fire protection program.  The tower serves the area of southwest Greensboro that includes the university and the Coliseum.  Since 1927, there has been a city-owned water tower located on Oakland Avenue.

In 1927 the city of Greensboro was rapidly growing and seeking to expand its water services.  The city had already built two large water towers.  The first water tower was constructed at Bellemeade and Greene streets in the late 19th century.  The second tower was built at Church Street and Wendover Avenue in the early 20th century.  The 150-foot water tower on Oakland Avenue represented the third structure built by the city.  The water tank was designed to hold 500,000 gallons of water.  The 1927 structure had a simple functional design.  It was a design that was used by many towns and cities throughout the United States.  The water tank was placed at the top of the structure and held up by a series of metal girders.  The girders themselves were held in place by a series of metal support “rings.”  At the very top of the tank was capped by a cone-shaped cover that many folks described as looking like a man’s hat or cap.  This water tower met the needs of the surrounding Greensboro community for decades.

1927 Water Tower with the UNCG Logo

When did the water tower become a visual landmark for the school?  It appears that a conversation was held between the university and the city about painting the school’s name on the tower in 1988.  After a series of conversations, the city of Greensboro in 1990 granted permission to the school to paint “UNCG” on the tower.  UNCG was painted in blue with gold bars above and below it.  The painting project was completed in March 1990 and the new tower’s lettering could be seen nearly a mile away.  By painting the school’s name to the tower, the actual structure acquired a new purpose that of a visual marker for the university.

By 2000, the 63-year-old structure was the oldest water tower in the Greensboro water system.  In 2003, the city of Greensboro allocated monies to demolish the old tower and replace it with a much larger 1 million-gallon water tower.  Starting in May 2003, a large construction crane was brought in to slowly dismantle the tower.  The cap that was affixed to the top of the water tank was the first item to be removed.  Over the next two weeks, the metal structure was taken apart and removed from the site.  While the school logo had only been on the old tower structure for thirteen years, it seems that the UNCG logo was firmly fixed in the minds of faculty, students, and Greensboro residents.  Indeed, Carol McDowell (a city water engineer) was asked how people would find the UNCG campus once the tower was removed.  Recognizing that a new replacement water tower would soon be built, McDowell replied that “I tell them they’ll be able to find it again in about a year.”

In July 2004, the preparations for the installation of a 91.5 ton water tower tank were being completed.  The huge tank was slowly lifted up by a system of cables so that it would ultimately rest on the top of a solid tower.  The $1.6 million water tower project was designed to meet the current and future needs of the university and the surrounding communities. 

Would the new tower be employed by the university as a visual landmark?  Recognizing how the water tower was adopted by the UNCG community, the university has always planned to employ the school’s logo on the new tower structure.  As the new water tank was being assembled on site, a painting crew from Landmark Structures was employed to paint the school’s athletic logo of a giant Spartan warrior and the letters “UNCG” on two sides of the structure.  The letters and the logo were painted in the school’s colors of blue and gold.  The project required 70-man hours, 10 gallons of paint, and 2,340 feet of painter’s tape.  In 2016, the UNCG design and image were repainted.  Today, the tower and the UNCG design logo and mascot continue to welcome and orient visitors to campus.

2004 Water Tower