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Bradley Hilltopics

Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
Notebook
National Geographic photo award; Professor in national media; Campus construction | Math professors | Artist Bill Hardin | Cooking up laughs; December grads; BU placement statistics | ILR Pacific Northwest trip; Fulbright experience

 

At the heart of Hardin’s art

by Nancy Ridgeway

Bill Hardin '50

Bill Hardin ’50 has painted portraits of U.S. presidents, other politicians, historical figures, and community leaders, including those at Bradley. The University’s founder, Lydia Moss Bradley, is shown in the portrait behind him on the right.

Bill Hardin ’50 likes to tell stories. Instead of writing words with pen and paper, he conveys his messages with paintbrushes and canvas. “A portrait tells a story better than all the words in the world. If you can see it, you can understand it.”

Hardin, president and owner of Hardin Signs in Peoria, has painted nearly all his life, but in the early years he wasn’t satisfied with his attempts at portraits. About 30 years ago, he traveled to New York to study under artist John Howard Sanden after responding to a one-inch ad in a national art magazine. He applied the money he received from his first commission toward the portrait class and trip to New York. “It was the most rewarding experience in my life, and my work improved to the level I had hoped to achieve. It was money well spent,” Hardin says.

Since then, he has painted a number of U.S. presidents and other politicians, community leaders, and historical figures. “Bradley has been my greatest advocate for portrait painting. Former Bradley President [Martin] Jerry Abegg ’47 HON ’93 provided me the opportunity to paint over 23 commissions for the University.”

In addition to painting portraits of founder Lydia Moss Bradley and coach A.J. Robertson, Hardin has painted administrator Ian Sturrock; prominent contributors to Bradley such as H.W. “Jack” and Mary Hartmann, Ray and Esther Heuser, Tom Foster ’51 MBA ’52 and Ellen Derges Foster ’52 (Bradley’s first female president of the Board of Trustees), David Markin ’53; retired Congressman Robert H. Michel ’48 HON ’81, and astronaut Major Robert Lawrence ’56. One of his more recent subjects was coach Joe Stowell ’50 MA ’56. Hardin is looking forward to painting President Joanne Glasser in the near future.

Hardin has painted four United States presidents who visited the Easton Mansion on Main Street in Peoria (now Converse Marketing). They include Teddy Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Grover Cleveland. Among his favorite portraits are those of Roosevelt, Abegg, and a third grader at Tyng School whom he had mentored through the Peoria Rotary Club.

He remembers completing a portrait of community leader Murray Baker. He took the portrait to Baker’s daughter, who was 85 and living in Chicago at the time. “She said, ‘I never thought I’d see my Daddy again.’ That was a special moment.”

Bringing people to life through art is what keeps Hardin motivated. He tries to capture his subject’s personality by adding items that are significant to the individual. For instance, in Stowell’s portrait, Robertson Memorial Field House is in the background, and Stowell is wearing a Bradley sweatshirt. “I’ve never used so much red paint,” Hardin says with a smile.

“People are so much more interesting to paint than landscapes. I have met some very nice people,” comments Hardin, who has painted more than 100 portraits. He estimates it takes about 60 to 70 hours to complete a portrait.

Hardin comes by his artistic talent naturally. His father painted landscapes as a hobby and met his wife at the Art Institute of Chicago. “My dad would be proud of what I’m doing with my portrait work. That’s why I wanted to paint my parents, as well. I still have my father’s paint box with ’08 scratched in the lid, so it’s 100 years old and still going.”

National Geographic photo award; Professor in national media; Campus construction | Math professors | Artist Bill Hardin | Cooking up laughs; December grads; BU placement statistics | ILR Pacific Northwest trip; Fulbright experience