The Brenau University Permanent Art Collection recently acquired a 19th-century painting through a donation made by trustee Ben Lilly.
The painting is part of an interesting story connecting Lilly, his great-grandmother Minnie Amelia Bailey Julian, and Brenau. It was likely acquired – or perhaps even painted – by Julian at Mary Sharp College in Winchester, Tennessee, which she attended from 1862-63 during the Civil War.
Named after the abolitionist Mary Sharp, the school was a women’s college first chartered in 1850, 28 years before the founding of what would become Brenau.
Education was Julian’s chosen study and profession, and she became an exemplary teacher in both Tennessee and Georgia. In the late 19th century, she taught at Gainesville College with A.W. Van Hoose, future president of Brenau. She helped him and his mother found the Georgia Baptist Female Seminary, which would only a few years later be renamed Brenau College.
Van Hoose said of Julian, “She inspired me to make of the Gainesville College the best school in that section of the state, and along with my own dear mother and wife, she helped me to form the Georgia Female Seminary upon a foundation which has enabled it to reach its present greatness and prosperity,” according to files in the Brenau Archives dated 1917.
The painting was later given to Julian’s daughter and Lilly’s grandmother, Jamie Anna Julian Lilly. The back of the canvas contains the inscriptions, “Jamie A. Julian from her mother July 31, 1893,” and “Mary Sharp College.” It is believed that the image of a rustic home scene shows a portion of the former college’s campus.
In 2005, the painting was given by one of his cousins to Ben Lilly – a Brenau trustee since 1994 – who desired to transfer it to Brenau given the connection in their histories.
“The history connects with Brenau likely as well or better than with the Lilly family,” said Lilly. “I am really thankful Brenau accepted this gift.”
A wealth of information about the painting, and many other unique histories of Brenau University, can be found in the Brenau Archives, located in the Trustee Library on the Gainesville campus. For more information or to schedule a visit, contact Benji Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org.