Posted: November 20, 2009
On Wednesday, December 9, the restored painting of beloved Mount Holyoke English professor Sarah Youngblood will be hung in the Stimson Room in the Williston Library in a formal ceremony, including reading of verse by Youngblood. The ceremony, organized by professor of religion Jane Crosthwaite with the support of the library, will take place at 4 pm.
"The celebration surrounding the hanging of Sarah Youngblood's portrait in the Stimson Room is enlivened by many auspicious stories," Crosthwaite observed. "First is the portrait of Sarah Youngblood, who was a beloved and valued member of the English department and an accomplished poet. Second brings the artistry of Bonnie Miller, Mount Holyoke's acclaimed teacher and painter, into a formal and fitting site. Third reminds us that the Stimson Room honors Mount Holyoke student and faculty poets, along with the judges, participants, and winners of MHC's esteemed Glascock poetry contest, all surrounded by bookshelves stocked with the works of many published poets."
Sarah Helen Youngblood was born on December 16, 1928, in Tyrone, Oklahoma. She received a B.A. in 1950, an M.A. in 1951, and a Ph.D. in English literature in 1958, all from the University of Oklahoma. She worked at the University of Minnesota--where one of her students was radio impresario Garrison Keillor--until 1968, when she became a professor at Mount Holyoke College. From 1959 onward, she published numerous articles and reviews, as well as poems. She specialized in modern poetry and American literature. She died on June 24, 1980.
The painting has been reframed, cleaned, and revarnished. In past years it has hung in a number of locations in the library, including the reading room. It was painted by art professor Bonnie Miller. According to a 2003 article in the College Street Journal:
"Miller's portrait of Mount Holyoke English professor and poet Sarah Youngblood, who died in 1980, hangs in a reading room of the Williston Library. During the years when Youngblood taught in the English department, Miller had asked her if she’d like to sit but, being 'profoundly humble and modest,' says Miller, Youngblood declined. But when Youngblood was diagnosed with cancer, the poet came to Miller and said, 'Well, it’s time for that portrait.' They completed it in three evenings, says Miller, during which an amazing thing happened. 'Sarah, who was so private but such a powerful personality, just made herself available. I believe Sarah was asking that painting to bear the weight of who she was. There was something about her clarity that loaned itself to the painting,' Miller recalls."
Participating in the event will be English professors William Quillian and John Lemly, colleagues to Youngblood, who assisted in the publication of her poetry that was gathered in a posthumous collection, Mr. Jefferson's Horses, published by the College in 1985. The collection was edited by poets Sharon Libera and John Peck, who were members of the English department at that time. Richard Johnson, long a member of the department, who passed away in 2006, wrote the introduction.