Coffman, Weisman officials struggle to relocate portraits

Former University President Lotus Delta Coffman and his wife “Mayme” were captured on canvas in the 1930s and 1940s.

CBy Brendan Jordan

coffman Union officials said they have no immediate plans to return the large portraits of former University President Lotus Delta Coffman and his wife to the renovated student union.

The 63-by-43 inch oil paintings of Coffman and wife, Mary Emma “Mayme,” were removed from the union before renovation and placed in storage at the Weisman Art Museum.

Although staff at the Weisman and the union planned to redisplay the portraits, finding an appropriate location has proved difficult.

Weisman museum supervisor Karen Duncan said the large portraits require a two-story ceiling, and the museum wants to ensure they are not damaged.

“We’re trying to find the right spot. We have to find a place where people won’t brush against them and light damage (won’t occur),” Duncan said.

Several locations have been considered, but an appropriate site has yet to be found, she added.

“We originally thought about the fireplace. Then we tried the Great Hall. Now we’re working on plan ‘C,’ ” Duncan said.

The portraits date back to the late 1930s. They were authorized by the Board of Regents on June 14, 1937. Both are oil paintings, painted from photographs by artist John Johansen. Coffman’s portrait was completed in 1939 and his wife’s portrait was completed in 1940.

The Weisman incorporated the portraits into its collection in 1940. Although they remained a part of the Weisman’s permanent collection, the portraits spent many years hanging above the fireplaces in the second-floor study area in the union.

Farrell Coffman Stewart, Coffman’s granddaughter, said she remembers the portraits from her days at the University in the early 1950s. Stewart said she used to take alarm at the sight of her grandfather staring down at her.

“I remember walking into the union and suddenly being startled by him,” Stewart said.

Stewart said she has particularly fond memories of Mayme’s portrait.

“That portrait really captured her well. She was such a petite, gracious lady,” Steward said.

There are still no concrete plans to return the portraits to the union. Tricia Schweitzer, art coordinator for Twin Cities Student Unions, would not give a time frame for their return.

“It’s in a standstill right now. We’ll know more in a few months,” Schweitzer said.

Brendan Jordan welcomes comments at [email protected]