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Portrait of a GSU legend
Betty Foy Sanders donates Erk Russell painting
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Betty Foy Sanders speaks about the process of commissioning artist Steve Penley, left, to create a painting honoring legendary Georgia Southern football coach Erk Russell Friday at the Center for Art and Theatre.

Bulloch County native and former First Lady of Georgia Betty Foy Sanders presented Georgia Southern University with a portrait Friday of legendary football coach Erk Russell as interpreted by renowned Georgia artist Steve Penley.

A presentation ceremony was held in the Center for Art and Theatre on campus.

"Georgia Southern always has and always will hold a special place in my heart," Sanders said, as she sat with Penley during the ceremony. "Erk Russell is such an important icon here and to the state of Georgia. It gives me great pleasure to donate such a beautiful work of art to the college."

Sanders commissioned Penley to create the work and the portrait of Russell will be on permanent display in the Betty Foy Sanders Georgia Artists Collection inside the Center for Art & Theatre. Curated by Sanders since 1967, the Georgia Artists Collection is the only one of its kind on a college campus in the state.

The collection features works by artists with a connection to the state of Georgia - whether the artist is native to the state, the artwork is created with materials indigenous to the state, or the imagery is about Georgia.

GSU President Brooks A. Keel accepted the portrait on behalf of the university Friday evening at the 1906 Society Gala.

Defined by bright colors and impressionistic brush strokes, Penley's painting of Russell layers iconic portraits of the coach with the traditions he instilled in Georgia Southern football and the university. From his signature smile to the yellow school bus, the triple-option and championship flags, the painting immortalizes the "Father of Georgia Southern football."

"The unveiling of this newest acquisition couldn't happen at a better time, Homecoming Weekend, when we all fondly embrace the traditions that make Georgia Southern so endeared," said Patricia Carter, chair of the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art.

Penley was raised in Macon and currently resides in Atlanta. His previous works include portraits of presidents, inventors, sports heroes and celebrities as well snapshots and symbols of American culture.

The Center for Art & Theatre is free and open to the public Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.


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