Westmont trustee Walter Hansen and Bruce Herman, Lothlorien distinguished professor in fine arts at Gordon College, presented President Gayle D. Beebe and his wife, Pam, with a commissioned portrait of Saint Augustine on Oct. 27 in Westmont chapel. The gift honors the couple’s 10 years of service at Westmont.
In Beebe’s book “Longing for God,” he describes Augustine as the single most influential Christian figure in the history of the church. Westmont named its honors program featuring 90 students who benefit from significant scholarships after Augustine.
“Gayle is the original Augustinian here at Westmont,” Hansen said. “So we’re honoring him today by giving him a portrait of his hero.”
Herman and his apprentice, Rachel Pacitti, a junior at Gordon, worked on the painting together. “All four of us collaborated on this project,” Herman said. “I was the master artist, but Gayle is the brains behind it, and Walter is the heart behind it. His love for Gayle, his love for Jesus Christ and his love for the wise words of Saint Augustine are what gave me the engine to move forward. The work of Augustine, whom we revere in the Christian tradition, was predicated in humility and losing his face, as it were, in order to gain a new name that Christ would give him rather than to make a name for himself.”
In the painting, the face of Augustine, who was North African, is taken from images of first-century sarcophagus portraits and photos of the late Abune Paulos, the former head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Gayle met Paulos at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1982 after Paulos had been imprisoned and tortured for speaking out against communism in 1974.
“He is an incredible, ordinary saint,” Gayle said. “His is the face I think of when I imagine Saint Augustine.
“Plato says beauty is the only spiritual essence we love instinctively by our nature. We should use it for access to the transcendent good. I often think of paintings as avenues God uses to awaken in us a deeper love and awareness. This painting is such a remarkable piece of work. We will treasure this the rest of our lives.”