A small collection of paintings by world-renowned artist Theora Hamblett adorns the walls of historic Brandt Memory House, home to the University of Mississippi Foundation on UM’s Oxford campus.
Recently, 1954 alumna Mary Louise Rosenbush donated two additional pieces to the collection, saying she believes her “Aunt Theora” would want them at Ole Miss, in close proximity to the others.
Hamblett’s work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $1,500 to more than $67,000, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.
“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Mrs. Rosenbush and, on behalf of the UM Foundation, I’d like to express how grateful we are for her gifts. Theora Hamblett’s art is special to us, and we are honored to be able to give it a perpetual home here at the University of Mississippi,” said Anna Langley, vice president of the UM Foundation.
The two gifts to Ole Miss most recently hung in the donor’s home — one, a painting Hamblett gave to Rosenbush’s father, Albert Burns “B” Bell, depicting him enjoying one his favorite pastimes.
“Daddy liked to fish at Sardis Dam in Sardis, Mississippi. Aunt Theora painted it for him and gave it to him when we visited her,” Rosenbush said.
Hamblett gave the second piece to Rosenbush and her husband of 47 years, Bert, the well-established and longtime owner of Rosenbush Furniture Co. in Demopolis, Alabama, the state’s oldest family-owned furniture store.
“Aunt Theora wanted me to paint. ‘Start with trees!’ she would say. Then she told me this: ‘You have the gift, my child. Use it, but only to God’s glory,’” Rosenbush recalled. “She said I had many God-given talents — art, music, faith, hope, love — creative ability.”
Rosenbush addressed Hamblett affectionately as “aunt,” though the two were second cousins. Responding to Hamblett’s encouragement, she dabbled in painting, but her exceptional talent continues to be playing the piano. Even now, at age 90, she regales friends with her music whenever she has the opportunity.
After graduating from Ole Miss with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, Rosenbush — then Mary Louise Bell of Marks, Mississippi — earned a master’s degree in religious education with an emphasis on student affairs, guidance and counseling from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
She then taught public school in Mississippi and Texas before being hired as director of women’s housing at the University of Alabama in 1966. She was soon promoted to director of residence halls and then, in 1969, to assistant dean for student development.
She also served as second vice president of the Alabama Association of Women Deans and Counselors and as the state of Alabama’s liaison officer for the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors.
She was a member of the Pilot Club of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and Kappa Delta Pi honorary education fraternity.
Hamblett died in her sleep at her Oxford, Mississippi, home on March 6, 1977. Her paintings of rural landscapes and religious revelations hang in esteemed galleries worldwide, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art as well as in U.S. embassies and the homes of such notables as former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, English actor Sir Alec Guiness and former Ole Miss Rebel and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
She also wrote two books that included her artwork titled “The Paintings” and “Dreams and Visions.”
In addition to her collection at Memory House, hundreds of Hamblett’s paintings and drawings are preserved at the University Museum on the Oxford campus.
By Bill Dabney/UM Foundation