It was 1975, and Joseph Polley Paine was retiring after 14 rewarding years on the faculty of Sam Houston State University's art department. The annual spring graduation fanfare had commenced and the Lowman Student Center Ballroom was overflowing with gown-clad students, faculty members, family and friends. Amid the traditional pomp and pageantry, after then SHSU President Elliott Bowers took a minute to recognize the departing Paine, the ballroom floor erupted with a roar of enthusiastic applause. One by one, then in unison, students, faculty, then the entire ballroom audience stood in resounding tribute to the beloved professor.
That was 22 years ago, but today memory of that moment still pulls the heart strings of the artist who, at age 85, remains a dedicated supporter of the fine arts program he helped create.
As a demonstration of his continuing devotion, Paine, who now lives in San Antonio, returned to the SHSU campus last May to present a one-man show entitled "Autobiography in Paint" at the Gaddis Geeslin Gallery. The show, billed as a retrospective exhibition, featured Paine's earliest pieces, created from the time of his service in World War II; his work at SHSU, painted during the '60s and '70s; and his more recent endeavors, hand-painted fine porcelain created in his San Antonio studio.
The show raised $4000 for the Polley Art Awards, a scholarship endowment honoring Paine's maternal lineage, presented each spring to outstanding SHSU painting students.
In addition to his scholarship contribution, Paine presented the university with one of his hand-painted porcelain vases, beautifully embellished with white and pink lilies. The vase will be permanently displayed at the Newton Gresham Library.
The gift, he said, was presented as "an ever-present reminder" of the "many wonderful memories" associated with his years at SHSU.
Paine first came to SHSU in the spring of 1961 at the bequest of art professor Gaddis Geeslin, whom he had known when both were teaching at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. In the early '60s SHSU was known as Sam Houston State Teachers College and the art program primarily supplemented educational degrees. Not long after being hired as an instructor, Paine was named director of the school's basic design program which included Art 161, a course required of all elementary education majors.
When the college received "university" status, the art program branched out on its own and Paine played an instrumental role in developing curriculum for SHSU's first bachelor's and master's of fine arts degrees. The expanded art offerings allowed the professor to concentrate on his first love -- painting -- in which he taught both watercolor and oil technique.
During his years as an art professor, Paine said, his personal art pursuits took a back seat to his teaching endeavors. Yet in spite of this, he managed to create several works accepted for major exhibitions. Paine's work has been shown across the United States in shows held in San Francisco, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, and throughout Texas.
Prior to joining the SHSU art faculty, the artist taught at several public institutions as well as privately. He has worked as an artist-illustrator and even as a window display designer for prominent floral shops in Houston and San Antonio.
Throughout his artistic career, he helped found some of Texas' most renowned art organizations including the South Texas Art League and the Texas Water Color Society. As a member of the now defunct Men of Art Guild, he spearheaded an effort to bring contemporary art to tradition-bound San Antonio museums. His work with the South Texas Art League lead to the creation of the Corpus Christi Art Museum.
Today, the octogenarian, who says he's enjoying "his second childhood," is still producing wonderful works of art from his San Antonio studio. He boasts of a wealth of friendships and especially cherishes his many friends in Huntsville.
In his lifetime, his art has enriched the lives of many, but as an educator his true legacy perhaps resides in the many students whose lives he has touched in a profound and endearing way.