Friday, February 5, 2010

Georgia State University Art school to receive $4 million from namesake

Faculty members in Georgia State University's Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design are currently researching how to strategically enhance programs and scholarship through a generous gift from the school's namesake.

Ernest G. Welch, the university's oldest alumnus, died at 103 on Dec. 26, 2009. He and his late sister, Frances, left a significant portion of their estates to Georgia State's School of Art and Design, totaling approximately $4 million.

The gift will be invested through the university's endowment, providing annual support to the school, which was named for Welch in 2003.

"It's huge," said Ralph Gilbert, associate dean for fine arts at Georgia State. "This money could support programs, bring in visiting artists and scholars, enhance infrastructure, boost scholarship and develop international programs.

Gilbert said he asked art faculty to start researching the other top art programs in the country to see how the resources can be used to fund new initiatives and build upon the school's existing distinctiveness. Welch also left his camera collection to the school, Gilbert said.

Welch was a 1999 graduate of the School of Art and Design. A long-time resident of Atlanta, Welch earned a business degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1928. He went on to serve in counterintelligence during World War II and landed in Normandy at Omaha Beach 10 days after the invasion. He was stationed in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, where he took photographs of the war effort.

After a decades-long career as a manager for Sonoco Products Company, Welch enrolled in Georgia State's art school in his late 80s. He earned a bachelor of fine arts in photography from the university in 1999.

In the fall semester of 2002, Welch enrolled in introductory painting and drawing classes in order to continuously improve his photography skills. He continued his self-education when he took up digital photography at 102. Welch's work has appeared at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and Arts for All Gallery in Atlanta as well as the gallery at Georgia State.

During his life, Welch had also been a generous supporter of the GSU art school, giving money for scholarships and enhancements to the photography program.

"Ernest was an incredibly kind and generous man," said Nancy Peterman, vice president for development at Georgia State. "We are truly grateful for his bequest, which will benefit future generations of art students here for many years to come."

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