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Saving Our Treasures

Perspectives on Our Past

A Serpent, A Rose and A Star.

By Grand Historian Bob McCully (San Diego State)

“Lacuna,” “cupping,” “flaking”, and  “varnish aging” are just a few of the terms I recently learned from my work in Sigma Nu’s museum and archives.  These words are well-known to art conservators, restorers and museum curators, and describe types of damage to older paintings.  Like everything, paintings over time show wear and tear and deteriorate from age.  It’s important that this aging damage be slowed down, as much as possible, through proper conservation and preservation methods to ensure they are around for future generations – but more about that later in this column.

First, let me tell you about three magnificent and symbolic paintings in our headquarters.  One painted in the early 1950’s, the second in the early 1960’s, and the third one more recently in the 1980’s – all by young Sigma Nu initiates.

A Serpent, A Rose and A Star

Arguably the most well-known to Sigma Nu initiates is A Serpent, A Rose and A Star, by Elmer Paul Catts, Jr. from our University of Delaware Chapter.  Paul Catts was initiated in 1949, and it’s in the fall of that year our story begins.  A group of Sigma Nu collegiate members having a discussion at the chapter house concluded Sigma Nu needed a symbolic painting to visually portray our symbols and traditions.

Of course, James B. Settles (Washington University in St. Louis) had already painted The Founding of Sigma Nu, showing the three founders at The Rock on January 1, 1869.  While the young men liked this painting, they felt it was more illustrative than symbolic. During the discussion, the men convinced Paul, a sophomore and the chapter recorder, to undertake the project.

Catts’ sketch.

He immediately set to work thinking about what he should include and sketching out ideas.  Fortunately, he donated his sketches to the Sigma Nu archives so we can follow the evolution of his thinking. He initially planned to paint a single knight climbing steps up to the three shrouded founders on top of The Rock.  However, over time, the idea of adding two additional knights to tie into the three sections of The Creed evolved.  Later developments included adding candidates and the women that hold a special place in Sigma Nu.

After all the preliminary thinking and sketching, he finally put brush to canvas in July 1950.  Due to other commitments on his time, he worked on the painting over the next two years and finally completed it in January 1952.  The alumni of the Delaware Chapter’s original predecessor local (Phi Sigma) paid to frame the painting, and it hung in the chapter house for many years.


A year after completion, the active chapter asked Catts for a name for the painting.  It was then given its name because the painting included all three Sigma Nu symbols — going from the lower right to the upper left of the painting.

In addition to these three distinct symbols, the artist included many others.  The three central figures (the Knights) each represent one section of The Creed – the White Knight for Truth, the Black Knight for Honor and the Gold Knight for Love.  Each Knight is armed with a different weapon, symbolizing the individuality and different talents each initiate of Sigma Nu is endowed with and brings to the Fraternity and his journey through life.

At the bottom are three men in brown hoods representing Candidates, each bearing a different weapon as well.  The ogres and other grotesque figures in the foreground represent the profane world that each knight and candidate must battle during their journey.

The Roman numerals representing 1869 are emblazoned on The Rock symbolizing the year of our founding. The three women in the field of white roses represent the females that are allowed to share our badge – sweetheart, sister and mother. The artist painted them in the nude to symbolize their innocence and “the avoidance of artificial dressings.”  Sigma Nu initates will recognize other symbols in the painting that will become known to Candidates as part of their initiation ceremony.

A Gift to the Sigma Nu Museum

The painting did not become widely known outside of the Delaware Chapter until it became the cover for the February 1960 edition of The Delta.  On May 25, 1976, Dr. Catts and a delegation of initiates of the Delaware Chapter brought the painting to Lexington and donated it to the Sigma Nu museum for permanent display.  A photographic reproduction replaced the original in the chapter house.

Today, the painting is prominently hung in the Sigma Nu museum where it greets every visitor to our beautiful headquarters.

The Quest

In the mid-1980’s, Michael V. Jaszczak (Case Western Reserve) completed a second painting displayed in our museum.  Titled The Quest, it also is a symbolic representation of concepts relevant to our initiates.  Mike has done many paintings for Sigma Nu and is a multi-talented artist in several media.  He was selected as the co-Sigma Nu Talent-of-the-Year in 1983 and again in 1984.  He also served on the High Council and was inducted into the Alpha Affiliate Chapter.

The Quest.

As with the previous painting, The Quest also grew out of a discussion at a chapter house, this time in the fall of 1983.  The brothers discussed how important fraternity symbols could be incorporated into a painting to tell our story.  Mike spent time over the next two years in bringing it together to form The Quest.  Mike and the Case Western Reserve Chapter presented it as a gift to the General Fraternity at the 1986 Grand Chapter in New Orleans.

There are many symbolic representations throughout the painting, and I only have space here to point out a few.  The three mountain peaks in the background represent the three founders, and the building is a representation of VMI.  The central figure is a knight and beside him is his apprentice or squire, representing candidates.  Items from the Sigma Nu Coat of Arms are emblazoned upon the knight’s shield, and his sword has the letters of our motto on it.

In the lower right is a limestone rock inscribed with the date of Sigma Nu’s founding in Roman numerals.  Also in the foreground is a serpent and white rose bush.

Sigma Nu Coat of Arms

Ellwood McClelland (Lafayette) designed the original Sigma Nu Coat of Arms, officially adopted at the 1915 Grand Chapter.  In the early 1960’s, Philip Mullinax, a young initiate of our Mercer Chapter, painted a magnificent rendition that is now at our headquarters in Lexington.  Original documents prepared by McClelland and provided by Richard R. “Dick” Fletcher (Penn State) guided Phil in ensuring the accuracy of the painting.

Coat of Arms.

In the summer of 1962, Dick Fletcher came down to Macon, Georgia, to visit the Mercer Chapter and see Phil’s work in process.  On seeing the actual work, Dick invited Phil to attend the 1962 Pittsburgh Grand Chapter later that summer where a special tribute was planned for McClelland at the closing banquet.  That night, Phil presented his painting to the fraternity in honor of McClelland and had the thrill of having the original designer comment on it.  Phil recalls the 83-year old McClelland being impressed with how accurate and true to the original it was – stating that it was “the most accurate representation he knew of.”

To this day, that moment is one of the highlights of Phil’s time as an undergraduate in Sigma Nu.

The Challenge

As I said earlier, over time paintings start showing wear and tear.  Unfortunately, the same is true of these three beautiful paintings and others in our historical collection.

The Catts painting, after 60 years, is starting to crack and flake.  Cracks in paintings start off small, but grow over time if not fixed.  Eventually, if not repaired, the paint starts flaking off the canvas entirely and leaves a large empty gap, known as a “lacuna.”

The Quest is darkening, and the symbols included by the artist are becoming harder to see; the result of “varnish aging.”  Varnish is applied to paintings as a protective measure – to guard them against accumulations of dirt and grime in the paint.  However, over time, varnish darkens and the painting underneath becomes darker and harder to see.

The Coat of Arms painting is showing damage due to less than ideal storage conditions.  The environmental conditions in Virginia swing from frigid and dry in the winter to very hot and humid in the summer.  The conditions in the summer months are ideal for the growth of mold and the painting has succumbed.  Currently, it is stabilized in better environmental conditions, but the existing mold must be very carefully removed to prevent additional damage and further mold growth.

So here’s our opportunity.  The Delta Alpha Alumni Chapter (Case Western Reserve) has put up a challenge grant of $3,000 for restoring paintings in our historical collection.  However, their condition is that it is matched by another $3,000 from donors who are interested in preserving our art treasures.

The young men who completed these three paintings, and others in our historical collection were idealistic and passionate about Sigma Nu and rose to the challenge of creating something to last and inspire future initiates in The Legion of Honor.  What a shame ­­if we didn’t take steps now to restore and preserve these beautiful pieces of art as part of our legacy for the future.  Please help us meet this challenge in whatever way you can.

If you are willing to help us, please visit sigmanufoundation.org and make a donation by clicking on the “Donate” button.  On the next screen, in the instructions field put a note earmarking it for “Art Restoration.”

Remembrance: Honoring Heroes of the Vietnam War

In the fall 2013 issue of The Delta, I discussed an effort currently underway to identify all initiates who served in the military and gave their lives to protect our freedoms during one of the wars the United States and Canada fought in. Their names will be added to the Flag Pavilion at our headquarters in Lexington to appropriately honor and remember them for their courage and ultimate sacrifice.  To make sure they are all recognized, I asked our readers to send in the names of those they are aware of who died.

In the last edition of The Delta, I listed brothers killed in the Korean War. Listed below, are the names of those brothers we have identified killed in the Vietnam War. In future editions of The Delta, we will list the names of those who died in other wars.

Please let us know if we’ve missed anyone who should be included on this list by sending an email to news@sigmanu.org.

Donald Bruce Adamson (Albion)

Robert Laurence Armond (San Jose State)

Anthony Rodney Bellamy (Idaho)

Dee Bergera (Utah State)

William Anthony Berry (Mount Union)

Curtis Richard Bohlscheid (Idaho)

Lloyd Riley Bunting (Lamar)

Robert Nelson Clark, Jr. (Rose-Hulman)

Gregory John Crossman (Idaho)

Donald Vance Davis (North Carolina State)

Joseph Wilson Devlin (Lafayette)

Steven Lewis Dongus (Butler)

Francis Murtaugh Driscoll (Brown)

Charles Glendon Dudley (Montana State)

William Michael Duncan (Kentucky)

Glenn Charles Dyer (East Carolina)

Tom Emerson (Oklahoma)

Reay Gordon English (Montana State)

Louise Wayne Frericks (Bradley)

Sigard Richard Grimstad (Bradley)

Ralph Edward Hunt, Jr. (Mount Union)

Bruce Allan Jensen (Wyoming)

James Harold Johnson, Jr. (Delaware)

John Anthony Kocak (Ohio)

Bruce Magnus Langaunet (Montana)

John Joseph Livingston, Jr. (Missouri)

Allen Robert Loane (Bowdoin)

John Andrew Marsh (Gettysburg)

Larry Raymond Martin (West Virginia)

John Charles Martin (Tulane)

Lloyd Arthur McGrew (Rose-Hulman)

Robert Warren Miller, Jr. (Texas)

Burke Holbrook Miller (Missouri Tech)

John Edward Miller (Carnegie-Mellon)

Gary Andrew Milton (West Texas A&M)

Steven Allen Olson (Missouri)

Litchfield Patterson Huie (North Carolina)

Henry Harvey Persons (Indiana)

Eugene LeRoy Rathman (San Diego State)

Charles David Rogers (East Carolina)

Ronald Oliver Scharnberg (Washington & Lee)

Lloyd Moore Scott, Jr. (Missouri Valley)

John Andrew Shaffer (Syracuse)

Charles Warner Sharman, III (Presbyterian)

Lewis Phillip Smith, II (Penn State)

Daniel Raymond Spurlin (Georgia State)

Robert Doane Stepanov (Kent State)

James Derrill Stevenson (Nebraska)

Charles Stockton Taylor (Samford)

Michael H. Thomas (Arkansas)

David Arlen Walders (North Dakota State)

Jan Frederick Warmbrodt (UCLA)

Dempsey H. Williams, III (East Carolina)

Charles Clark Williard, II (Rollins)

David Hugh Wyrick (Duke)

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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