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Portrait of Charles Hovey

This portrait of Illinois State’s first president, Charles Hovey, is among the oldest items held at the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives. The painting was created in approximately 1855 by an unknown artist.

Illinois State University Presidential History collection available online

In celebration of Founder’s Day 2018, the Presidential History collection is now available online. Nineteen presidents have guided Illinois State University since its founding in 1857. In addition to seeing their presidential portraits, you will learn about each president’s diverse background and the paths they took to become the leader of Illinois’ first public university.

Illinois State University’s Presidential Portrait collection hung for many years in the Circus Room at the Bone Student Center. During the summer of 2015, Bone Student Center and Milner Library administrators decided to move most of these historic pieces into the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives for safekeeping.

However, since the portraits were no longer on display in a public place, the Presidential History online collection became a priority.

“We wanted to give back to the campus community while still continuing to protect these pieces of history,” University Archivist April Anderson said.

The preservation project to digitize all of the portraits began immediately and was a collaboration between Archives and Milner’s Digital Center. “It was important for us to capture the portraits as they were in that moment, before further fading, damage, etc. occurred,” Anderson said.

Sara Caldwell, digital assets coordinator in the Milner Digital Center, described the digitization process:

“The portraits were scanned using the Betterlight SuperHK scanback system, which scans from overhead. Under ideal circumstances, five scans were taken and a composite was made using the areas of best focus from each. Many required more due to complexities introduced by paint texture or glass over the surface of the image. After the composite was made, we adjusted the color in Photoshop to match the original as perfectly as we could. The portrait reproductions you see online were derived from those final images.”

From setup to completed composite scan, an individual portrait could take as long as two weeks. The entire digitization process took one year to complete.

The Presidential History collection is a tool that Anderson hopes will be used across many disciplines. “From artists examining the variations in the portraits to history students researching our campus life to English scholars studying the historic texts and presidential papers, we know this collection will become an invaluable resource for many units across campus and beyond.”

Learn how each president helped shape Illinois State University.

For more information about Illinois State’s University campus, purchase The History Series, Illinois State University. A portion of each purchased book will be donated back to the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives to assist in furthering its work in preserving Illinois State University’s history.

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