• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email
Knoxville's Little Known History: Check Out Portraits of Mayors Past 
A gallery of portraits of Knoxville's past mayors is on display on the 5th floor of the City County Building.

On the fifth floor of the City County Building, you'll find a unique gallery - dozens of portraits of Knoxville's former mayors, starting with the City's first executive, Thomas Emmerson (elected in 1816).

Sure, you won't find a Rembrandt in the collection. There's no Mona Lisa, either.

But for anyone curious about how history and art intertwine, walking the fifth-floor atrium and gazing at the sequenced portraits would make for an interesting outing.

There are oddities, for sure: William Rule (1873; 1898-99) sports a Colonel Sanders-like goatee. He's one of 14 mayors with facial hair. J.H. Cowan (1856, 1858) could lay claim to growing the longest beard. John P. Murphy (acting mayor in 1904), might win the people's choice award for best moustache. Seven wore glasses for their portrait sittings. Only one mayor, S.G. Heiskell (1896-97), chose to wear a white tie.

Most of the older paintings were done in oil, and many of those were covered with glass. Unfortunately for Mayor Joseph Jacques (one of five mayors in 1858; he served again in 1878), it's hard to get a good glimpse of him, because the glass has fogged. Removing the glass could damage the surface of the painting.

As Knoxville approaches the 225th anniversary of its founding on Oct. 3, 2016, City Blog is exploring some of City government's little-known historical facts and interesting trivia.

The mayoral portrait gallery got its start when Janet Testerman Crossley, wife of Mayor Kyle Testerman (1972-75, 1984-87), began gathering portraits, which had been scattered far and wide. Then, in 2006, Cathy Chesney and other members of the staff of Mayor Bill Haslam (2003-11), resumed the effort and finalized the gallery. The portraits were meticulously hung by Cindy Spangler, retired collections manager for the Ewing Gallery at the University of Tennessee.

The final collection includes portraits of all but 24 of the City's past 67 mayors. The oldest is that of Emmerson, and his solitary portrait used to hang in the Mayor’s Office.

In recent years, Judith Foltz, Director of Special Events, worked to get a new hanging device in place for the newer portraits. It's used in many museums, and she hopes to use the improved hanging device with the entire gallery. Two portraits hung using more traditional wiring have fallen and been damaged, and repairing portraits is costly.

The most recent portraits are of Mayors Bill Haslam (2003-11) and Daniel Brown (2011). It can take about eight months for a mayor to commission a painting and for the artist to complete it. The Haslam family commissioned Mayor Haslam's portrait and chose artist John Woodrow Kelley. Mayor Brown’s portrait was commissioned by the City, and a young African-American artist named Carl Hess was chosen.

Right now, the gallery is a men-only Who's Who. That will change in the next few years, when the portrait is commissioned for the City's current and 68th mayor - Madeline Rogero. She's the first woman to serve as mayor.

- Communications intern Tyler Cookston

Posted by evreeland On 26 September, 2016 at 9:07 AM