Local artist creates portraits of Tarleton’s presidents
STEPHENVILLE, Texas — A pen and ink drawing depicting former Tarleton State University President F. Dominic Dottavio was unveiled recently in the Hall of Presidents in the Administration Building.
Highly regarded local artist Mary Waters, who has drawn each of the presidents’ portraits for the hall, was there as Dr. Dottavio’s was unveiled.
Dottavio, Tarleton’s 15th president, led the university for 11 years, beginning in 2008. He was at the helm in 2017 when, during the university’s Centennial Celebration commemorating 100 years in the Texas A&M University System, the Hall of Presidents was created featuring all 14 of the campus leaders to that point.
“I had a chance to talk to Dr. Dottavio after the ceremony that day, and I asked if he’d like me to go ahead to get started on his portrait,” Waters said. “He said, ‘Are you trying to get rid of me?’ I said ‘No, no, I just want to do your portrait.’
“I was so impressed with what he was doing for Tarleton, I was thrilled to get to do his portrait. I wanted it to be so good so he and Lisette would be pleased with it.”
Now-President Emeritus Dottavio knew Waters was the right choice for memorializing Tarleton’s presidents.
“Mary understood the big concept of the portrait project for Tarleton’s Centennial celebration as a member of the Texas A&M University System,” he said. “The portraits are not as much about individuals as they are about the extraordinary history of the university.
“The thousands of legendary Tarleton Texans who helped shape this university are part of those sketches and should be remembered for turning a poor college on the prairie into a remarkable comprehensive regional university.”
Waters was chosen as artist for the Hall of Presidents after her work became known through bronzes she was commissioned to create.
“I had done Dr. (E.J.) Howell’s portrait in a plaque that hangs in the Education Building,” she said. “And I did a portrait of (Tarleton benefactor) Dora Lee Langdon on a plaque that was given to her just months before she passed away. That was the beginning of my work with Tarleton.”
Waters, a former Stephenville High School teacher, retired from the classroom to pursue her passion for creating pieces in a variety of media — painting, sculpture and photography. She holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary art education from Asbury College in Kentucky and continues to teach small group community art classes.
Her latest sculpture, based on the women’s suffrage movement, earned her first prize in the Daughters of the American Revolution American Heritage Sculpture Contest earlier this year.
She was to have received the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., before the pandemic forced its cancellation.
The Hall of Presidents is located on the second floor of the Tarleton Administration Building, near the president’s office suite.