During the 100th anniversary year of a key building on Augustana College’s campus, a breathtakingly beautiful and realistic portrait of its last president will soon grace its interior.

The private Rock Island school commissioned Maquoketa, Iowa native Rose Frantzen to paint a new portrait of Steven Bahls, Augie’s eighth president, who retired last summer after leading the institution 19 years.

Of the colorful finished product (four feet high by three feet wide), Bahls posted on Facebook Thursday that it’s a “wonderful portrait that Augustana commissioned for the Steve and Jane Bahls Campus Leadership Center. I was particularly pleased that Rose included a book that has guided my thinking about justice, ‘A Theory of Justice,’ by John Rawls,” he wrote.

Gathering for the unveiling of the new portrait at the Steve and Jane Bahls Campus Leadership Center were Augustana president Andrea Talentino, left, Jane Bahls, Steve Bahls, artist Rose Frantzen and her husband Chuck Morris (courtesy of Augustana College).

The portrait will be installed just inside Bahls Center (formerly known as Founders Hall) with a plaque noting the years of service Steve and his wife Jane gave to campus.

Founders Hall was built in 1923 by the Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In 1967, the seminary, then administratively separated from the college, sold the property to the college.

Last May, the college Board of Trustees voted to rename Founders in honor of Steve and Jane Bahls. Effective June 1, 2022, the building — which houses administrative offices; student services; the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Office of the President; and Ascension Chapel — will be known as The Steve and Jane Bahls Campus Leadership Center.

Augustana dedicated the new space on May 12, coinciding with a special campus event to honor the retirement and legacy of the couple. Current college president Andrea Talentino began July 1, 2022.

Pairing with Frantzen

Kai Swanson (Class of 1986), the special assistant to Augie’s president, said the college has portraits of each of its presidents, mostly hanging in the buildings named for them (e.g., Tredway Library, Bergendoff Hall, Sorensen Hall). Steve Bahls needed to be sold on the idea of committing his image to canvas permanently.

Maquoketa native Rose Frantzen created the large scale “Portrait of Maquoketa” in 2006.

Once he agreed, the college connected with Rose Frantzen, who is most well-known for her popular “Portrait of Maquoketa,” a multi-panel artwork that includes 180 12×12″ oil portraits of people from Maquoketa, as well as a 315-square-foot landscape view of Maquoketa painted on 34 vertical panels suspended from the ceiling.

The panels (now in the permanent collection of Davenport’s Figge Art Museum) are arranged in such a way that when a visitor sits at one end of the installation, all of the panels come together and align as one unified view of Maquoketa as seen from the hills outside of town. The other sides of the landscape panels display all 180 portraits.

In 2009 and 2010, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery exhibited “Portrait of Maquoketa,” and it was subsequently shown at the Figge.

Part of “Portrait of Maquoketa” at the Figge Art Museum, which has been exhibited there in 2016-17 and October 2017 to February 2020.

A Maquoketa native, Frantzen has gained national and international acclaim for her oil paintings from life that bring contemporary perspectives to a traditional approach. In addition to landscapes, still lifes, and figurative works, Frantzen creates serial and allegorical works that incorporate diverse stylistic elements along with gilding, stained glass, and mosaic.

Frantzen’s work has shown at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Butler Institute of American Art, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Denver Historical Museum, and as an award winner in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition.

Swanson said she’s painted portraits of former U.S. Agriculture Secretary (and Iowa governor) Tom Vilsack, and presidents of the University of Iowa. Of Augie’s commission, “she was immediately very intrigued by the idea,” Swanson said Friday. “She can pick and choose what she wants to do, given her accomplishments.”

Bahls retired as Augie’s eighth president June 30, 2022.

Part of the reason she agreed was the shared Iowa roots between Frantzen and Bahls (he grew up in the Des Moines area and went to University of Iowa) and similar ages, he said.

She was intrigued by the colors of stained glass in the meditation room of Augustana’s Peter J. Lindberg, M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance, which is a popular spot for prayer, yoga and meditation, Swanson said.

The artist had Bahls sit for his portrait (dressed in formal academic robes) there for five days in June 2022, and she completed the painting in her studio.

Stained glass in the Lindberg Center meditation room (courtesy of Augustana College).

“It’s a great portrait,” Swanson said. “There’s something about Steve right there — it’s a faithful image, but there’s more to it than that. There’s warmth that comes from the painting, which is really a sign of a great painting.”

Incorporating Bahls holding one of his favorite books is “a nice accent,” Swanson said.

Steve Bahls spoke about the new portrait (right) outside the president’s office at Augustana.

For information on the Founders Hall transition and the legacy of Bahls’s presidency, click HERE.