MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (June 25, 2024) — There's something about the final semester that brings out the best in Dusty Scott.

As a Monmouth College senior in 2003, Scott was coming to terms with the reality that he might graduate in a few weeks without a girlfriend. But then he and his friend, junior Autumn McGee ('04), began dating during the spring semester, and the couple has been married since 2006.

Today, Dusty is an accomplished artist, while Autumn is a vice president at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg.

And Dusty is the artist who painted the official portrait of Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt. The portrait, which will hang in the Morgan Room of Poling Hall, was unveiled toward the end of the spring semester.

Down to the wire again

As alumni who live nearby, the Scotts have stayed connected to Monmouth, including Autumn's time on the admissions staff. That connection helped Scott get his foot in the door with commissioned pieces for his alma mater, including a bag-piper and drummer at the south entrance of the Huff Athletic Center — which he called a turning point in his professional career — and the cover art for several editions of Monmouth College Magazine.

"After I did those paintings for the Huff Center, Clarence and I had our first meeting about the portrait, so that was in 2017," said Scott. "But then for a long period of time, which included COVID, we didn't talk about it."

The portrait — and who, exactly, would be painting it — was put on the back-burner for a while, in part due to the pandemic but also because Wyatt had his focus elsewhere, including the successful Light This Candle Campaign, which raised more than $80 million for Monmouth.

Eventually, Wyatt and First Lady Lobie Stone realized there needed to be some movement on the project.

"Last August, he asked me, 'Hey, you think maybe you want to do this?'" said Scott. "Clarence, Lobie and I met in Clarence's office in November. Time was ticking on this. It got a little tight."

Unlike the familiar creative process from decades and centuries ago, subjects don't "sit" for the duration of a portrait painting. Rather, Scott had Wyatt sit for a professionally-lighted photo session in January as Wyatt was beginning the final semester of his ten years of service as the College's fourteenth president. Scott then selected the image from which he wanted to work.

Scott is a veteran of the process, as he estimated that roughly two-thirds of his paintings are portraits.

"You're focusing on someone's subtle facial differences that make that person that person," he said.

Some background on the background

So it was business as usual for Scott in the parts of the painting that featured Wyatt, as he chose to play up the "welcoming" qualities he's observed in the president throughout the past decade.

"Clarence bought a painting from me in the first ten minutes after we'd met," he said. "And he was so personable with the students. You'd be hard-pressed to find a president who was more connected to students than him. He always took the time to talk to me, and I wanted to convey that approachable nature of his."

But there was more to it than simply capturing Wyatt's nature. Unlike the first dozen portraits of Monmouth presidents, which all had what Scott called a "foggy" background, his work has plenty of detail behind Wyatt, a concept that began with the portrait of the previous president, Mauri Ditzler.

As Wyatt, Stone and Scott discussed the work in November and the possible poses and backgrounds that might be used, "I kept coming back to the bookcase that Clarence had commissioned" in his office, said Scott. "Painting the background was a challenge, but it was an opportunity to tell more of President Wyatt's story with the bookshelf behind him and books on Kennedy and Vietnam. It may not have been everything he was about, but you see that interest."

Scott had to walk a fine line, not only in making sure that his representation of the shelves was in geometric proportion, but also in the amount of detail he chose to show.

"You want it to assist, but not detract," he said of the background. "You want to fly under the radar with it. If you use too much, it's something that can derail it."

Another book in the background is one written by Wyatt — Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War. In addition to being a scholar on the Vietnam War, Wyatt is a student of John F Kennedy's presidency.

A brush with history

Adding a portrait of Monmouth's fourteenth president to the thirteen already hanging in the Morgan Room of the College's Poling Hall is already a brush with history for Scott. Two other elements of the portrait — one specific and one general — are also important to him.

The canvas that he stretched for the painting has three handprints outlined on the back — Dusty's, Autumn's, and their daughter Lucy's.

"It's a way to have something of us always with the place that gave us so much joy and happiness," said Scott.

He's proud of the fact that his work will be on display for years to come. After all, some of those thirteen portraits are well over 100 years old.

"I have a painting at my alma mater that will be there for the existence of the College," said Scott. "It's very surreal and very meaningful. I'll always have that, no matter what happens. It's a huge honor to have that painting at a place I love so much. Autumn and I have so many friendships that started at Monmouth. Being in college was the time of my life. There's no other time like it. I feel so lucky. It was such a good time."

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