Holding eyeglasses in his right hand and papers in his left, University past president
Andrew A. Kincannon looks as though he may step right out of the portrait and frame.
|Artist Jamie McMahan has painted several past presidents, and used a stand-in for
his most recent work, Andrew A. Kincannon.
“It gives a little glimpse of him as if you had walked into his office at the University,”
said Mary Ann Griesbeck, great-granddaughter of Kincannon, who was president of then-West
Tennessee State Normal School from 1918 to 1924. “He just comes to life.”
The portrait of Kincannon, commissioned by the U of M to artist Jamie McMahan (BS
’65), will be added to the University’s collection of past and current presidents
that hangs in the Administration Building’s atrium.
McMahan has painted seven other portraits of past presidents as well as official portraits
and private works for people across the country, including Pulitzer Prize-winning
author Alex Haley. He also was commissioned by the Georgia Legislature to paint a
portrait of John Ross, who was chief of the Cherokee nation during the Trail of Tears
Prior to putting the first brushstroke on a canvas, McMahan met with two of Kincannon’s
relatives: great-granddaughter Griesbeck and granddaughter Charlotte Westenberger,
both of Memphis.
Kincannon, known as “Dear” to his immediate family, held a master’s degree from National
Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio. He also served as chancellor of the University
of Mississippi and superintendent of the Meridian City Schools in Meridian, Miss.
“He was a wonderful grandfather,” Westenberger said. “He had a great sense of humor.
He came from a big family and I never heard him say a bad word, never heard him talk
about anybody in a derogatory way. He was just wonderful.”
Westenberger and Griesbeck met at least three times with McMahan, sharing stories,
family photos and Kincannon’s personal possessions, such as letters and watch fob.
“[McMahan] was interested in all of our stories, and we talked and laughed and had
such a memorable time recalling those things,” Griesbeck said.
After understanding Kincannon as a person, McMahan went to his studio to begin the
portrait. Because Kincannon was not alive to pose for the portrait, McMahan hired
“All I had to work with was a picture of his face, head and shoulders,” McMahan said.
“I got a model to wear a suit and vest with a watch fob. I tried to give it a suggestion
of something dated, but something dignified nonetheless.”
Nothing in the portrait is arbitrary. From the crisp blue of Kincannon’s eyes to the
royal purple on the hood of his robe, McMahan incorporated items as extensions of
Kincannon’s character. The background of the portrait is of an office or library setting,
adding to Kincannon’s academic nature.
McMahan then brought a “rough study,” or small-scale draft portrait, for comments
from Griesbeck and Westenberger about Kincannon’s physical positioning, facial features
“I almost cried when I saw it,” Westenberger said. “It was so moving because it was
so like him. It looked like he was going to say something.”
After three months of research and painting, McMahan contacted Westenberger and Griesbeck
to view the completed portrait. Both women were in awe.
“We were so pleased with the study, we couldn’t imagine anything better,” Griesbeck
said. “But to look at the finished portrait was magnificent. It truly captures his
spirit. It’s a magnificent treasure for our families and a lasting treasure for future
McMahan studied fine arts and mathematics at the U of M, while also playing basketball
for the Tigers. He was the Tigers’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer in
1965. He worked in marketing for IBM until becoming a full-time artist about 22 years
— by Laura Fenton