For decades, a portrait of Mary Lynch Johnson hung alone in Joyner Lounge. Now, Joyner Lounge is complete with the “Big Three.” Mary Lynch Johnson no longer stands alone as she has been joined by portraits of Norma Rose and Ione Knight.
The professors were known and praised for their rigorous teaching styles, which gave them the name, by which they were forever known, the “Big Three” of the English department.
The portrait of Johnson has been watching over Meredith College for many years. It was presented to the Colton English Club on November 4, 1966. It was painted by Mary Tillery, ’22, who was an instructor and associate professor of art from 1925-41. It is not known where the portrait was originally hung, although Joyner Hall is likely.
Professor of English Robin Colby thought the portrait of Johnson could use some company, which is why she suggested the portraits of Rose and Knight be added. The three made an impact on the College and this was a way to honor them for the work they did and the students they inspired. They were also friends and colleagues. “They represented, for many students, the core of the English department, and it seemed fitting to complete the group,” said Colby.
Laura Fine, head of the English department, agreed. “Knight taught in our department for 37 years and Rose for 49 years,” said Fine. Colby and Fine thought Linda FitzSimons, a Meredith alumna and former chair of the art department, would be the one for the job. “Linda FitzSimons completed other installations around campus and we’ve thought highly of her work,” said Fine.
FitzSimons added a more contemporary style to the paintings, which Colby believes updated their look for the incoming students who do not know about the Big Three.
FitzSimons was a faculty member in the art department from 1988-2010, and was the department head from 2005-10. She completed the reunion of the Big Three after a lengthy period of time. The process of making the portraits was extensive. She started from small sketches and transferred that to the gessoed canvases by charcoal. Then began the process of painting.
It took FitzSimons a month to do each portrait, and then another week to do the backgrounds. She admits her style is more contemporary than Tillery, but she wanted the three paintings to mesh together.
“The background is the Meredith maroon and as a nice touch, the blue words in the background are these English teachers’ favorite authors,” said FitzSimons. She wanted to create a background that “united these greatly admired teachers with their beloved English department, Meredith College, and the authors that they loved to teach.”
FitzSimons was, and continues to be, thoroughly involved in the Meredith community. When she taught here, she took students on study abroad trips, taught in the graphic design and art education programs, and helped with student art exhibitions. After retiring from Meredith, she participated in an invitational alumnae exhibition about the Meredith Hues Iris last year, and organized tours to Italy. She continues to participate in Meredith’s events and activities.
She hopes students will be able to “see a hint of their big personalities through the sparkle in their eyes.” “They were such strong and personable women who were honored and respected during their long tenures as faculty members, and they set the high standards of excellence that the English department still maintains.”