Georgia O'Keffee's guardian angel comes forward quietly

Now that the world knows what I knew back then, I can blog about it! Tennessee’s attorney general, Bob Cooper, announced on Friday, October 22, 2010 that Fisk Alumna, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch, stepped forward with funds to keep the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. To the shouts of many on the outside of the Fisk bubble, a Fisk alumnus was doing what alumni around the country do daily, support their school.

Let me give you a few behind the scenes snippet of what I have permission to share. On Monday I discovered, after much thought and prayer, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch decided to establish a fund at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help maintain the collection on the campus at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery. She did not announce it with a ticker tape parade or send press releases to shout it to mountain top. She did it Carol’s way that I have come to admire so deeply, with quiet elegance. After seeking counsel from others, she informed the Attorney General of her plans. I got a call from her to share with me her decision to establish the fund that would provide for the upkeep of the art at no cost to the school. She asked for my support which I gave immediately. I was flabbergasted that I was entrusted with such precious information. She was seeking input from others about her decision and building a pool of donors who believed in her mission. I thought the idea was extremely bold and courageous.

Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch had thought long and hard about her convictions. She is deeply connected to the collection. Her mother, Pearl Creswell, was the first curator of the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. Pear Creswell met and corresponded with Georgia O’Keeffe for many years. “This art has been a part of my life since I was young girl,” she told me once. Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch is a 1955 graduate of Fisk University and she cares profoundly about the future of the school. Visit her home and it is evident that she has been raised around Fisk’s Art Collection which includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Marsden Hartley and Diego Rivera as well as O'Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz all her life. The influences are in every nook and cranny. As she points to what knots here and there, her sentences usually start with two enduring words, “My mother”. Her love for her mother and art is everywhere. Whenever I have come to “sit for spell”, I have been taken aback about the lessons in culture and life I have received on each visit. Her love of family and art is matched by her love of teaching even though she cries,” I am in retirement” often. My visits are lead by a teacher with much compassion and I am not allowed to leave until my teacher-friend has finished my life lessons for that day.

Our paths crossed through mutual groups, organizations and our passion for art. I am learning to temper my spirit as I read from her quiet grace filled book on diplomacy. When she senses I am ready to give a quick witted response to mayhem, I am given a stern look to behave or a reminder to keep my words to a minimal. This past summer, I asked her to be part of My Very Special Frist Center Adventures. She allowed me to pull her in various directions as I stumped the hallways of the Frist Center. We share a mutual love for the museum as well as volunteer at the Frist. She has volunteered for many years while I am still in my infancy stages by comparison. She graciously modeled for The Golden Age of Couture brochure that depicted clothing styles inspired by widely popular exhibit. She was excited to volunteer for the project,an idea I wanted to create for visitors and several media outlets. Her response when I asked her to be one of my "role" models was a simple, “Just tell me my time, I don’t need all the details,” was said with a smile. How refreshing! At one point during the day long shoot, she was surrounded by young women who also participated in the photo shoot along Joyce Searcy and Gloria McKissack. They were in awe as the camera captured the inner beauty of a woman who was made to be in front of the camera.

The time I have spent with her is always positive and encouraging. Our conversations stay with me long after we have departed. We have gone on quiet outings to hear Nashville's Symphony together and we spent a day at Lipscomb last week soaking up the vision and wisdom of Dr. Norma Burgess long awaited Women’s Conference.

Her quite strength and determination to do what is right is at the heart of trying to keep the Georgia O’Keefe’s Gift, the Stieglitz Collection, to Fisk, Nashville and the South on Fisk’s campus. She lives a quite life enjoying her grandchildren and volunteering where she sees various needs in the community. Her only public statement regarding the collection is:

In an effort to support my belief that the Alfred Stieglitz Collection should remain on the campus at Fisk University continuing to be housed at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery I have formed the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. This fund will provide for the care, upkeep and display for the gift of Georgia O'Keeffe as directed by the donor. The fund will allow Fisk University financial relief.

I am asking those who share my concerns, regarding this unique treasure and who respect its historic value to Fisk University, to join with me and others who have generously agreed to step forward and underwrite this endeavor. If and when you are able please join with us to preserve our heritage and make a contribution at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University.

To my classmates, to Fiskites everywhere, and to friends of Fisk University thank you for your help and consideration. Thank you for listening to me and for your support in this heartfelt effort.

Don't you love it when a guardian angel steps forward quietly? Knowing her personally has me cheering for her endeavors very loudly!

Photo credits for the Frist Center For the Visual Arts
Makeup Skot Williams
Stylist Genma Holmes

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