An oil on canvas portrait of University alumna Willa Cather by Russian artist Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955) was presented last August to the University of Nebraska's Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery by Miss Cather's niece Helen Cather Southwick.
The University has special significance for Mrs. Southwick-it was not only her alma mater, but also the place where she met her husband, the late Professor Philip L. Southwick, who graduated with high distinction in the class of 1939. Interestingly, among Mrs. Southwick's friends during her student days was Mary Frances Sheldon, one of the gallery's key benefactors.
Fechin, who emigrated to the United States in 1923, painted the portrait in 1923 or 1924. Cather was pleased with the portrait, and it hung in her New York City apartment for many years. Dan Siedell, Sheldon curator, called the donation a significant addition to the Sheldon's collection because Fechin's work had not previously been represented in the collection, and more importantly, "the subject now enables the Sheldon to participate aesthetically in Cather scholarship."
Fechin achieved considerable fame in Taos, New Mexico, from 1927 through 1933, painting Pueblo Indians.
At a reception to officially accept the portrait, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman noted that the Southwicks' association with the University, Helen's friendship with Mary Frances Sheldon, and her family relationship to the author all add deeper meaning to the gift.
"I can think of no place where it will be more cherished than at Willa Cather's alma mater," he said.