When librarian Will Owen died unexpectedly in 2015, the UNC Libraries lost a valued colleague and the world of Australian Aboriginal art lost one of its greatest champions.
Now a painting installed in Davis Library recalls Owen and the expertise that earned him the thanks and recognition of Australia’s government.
On December 18, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt helped the Libraries dedicate the untitled acrylic painting by Australian artist Martin Tjampitjinpa in a small private ceremony.
The painting is a companion to one that hung for many years in Owen’s office. It was the gift of Owen’s longtime partner, Harvey Wagner, a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Wagner passed away in July 2017.
Folt recalled meeting Owen and Wagner after the pair donated their extensive collection of Aboriginal art to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College when she was interim president there. Nothing could be more appropriate, she said, than to memorialize Owen’s contributions by placing “in the heart of the library, at the heart of campus” an example of the art that he loved.
UNC University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks, former University Librarian Sarah Michalak, and Associate University Librarian Tim Shearer also made remarks.
The painting hangs in the Nelson Ferebee Taylor Reading Room on the main floor of Davis Library. It is done in the characteristic “dot painting” style of the Western Desert Art movement in Australia. It features connected squares that represent the campsites of ancestors who passed through the ancient site of Ngurrapulangu.