GW’s most recent president emeritus and portraitist Bradley Stevens revealed a painting that depicts Dr. Knapp at the heart of campus life.
By Ruth Steinhardt
The George Washington University unveiled a portrait of former president Steven Knapp at the school’s Gelman Library on Friday. Dr. Knapp and portraitist Bradley Stevens revealed the piece at the National Churchill Library and Center before an audience that included several generations of Dr. Knapp’s family, as well as current George Washington President Thomas J. LeBlanc, president emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, current GW deans and faculty and past and present members of the GW Board of Trustees.
Board chair Nelson Carbonell Jr. lauded Dr. Knapp as a “terrific partner” to the board.
“It has been a privilege to have a front-row seat to Steve Knapp’s decade as president of the university,” said Mr. Carbonell, B.A. ’85. “Because of Dr. Knapp, GW became a better and different place.”
Dr. LeBlanc, who succeeded Dr. Knapp after he stepped down in July 2017, said that Dr. Knapp “truly left behind a legacy of accomplishments that have moved this university forward toward our ultimate aspirations.”
“We’re delighted to give his image a permanent home at GW,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Dr. Knapp’s many accomplishments through 10 years as president included spearheading the $1 billion Making History fundraising campaign, building GW’s research abilities—including construction of Science and Engineering Hall—and incorporating into GW local arts powerhouses like the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.
Dr. Knapp said the placement of the portrait in the Gelman Library was particularly “touching” for him. The library was the site of a fondly recalled triumph of his presidential career: the relocation of Gelman’s entrance from a hidden door on H Street to a grander face on Kogan Plaza.
Dr. Knapp shared other memories of his time at GW, including a memorable Halloween when he and his wife, Diane Robinson Knapp, borrowed elaborate pirate costumes from the Theatre and Dance Program. The Knapps carved pumpkins, supplied themselves with candy and eagerly awaited trick-or-treaters at the F Street House—but no one arrived. Dr. Knapp even stood out on the porch in full piratical regalia, including a cutlass, but “not a single student looked up and noticed me,” he said. Students, the Knapps concluded with some disappointment, were headed to more glamorous parties.
It was an example of the Knapps’ integration into the Foggy Bottom campus community, reflected in Mr. Stevens’ portrait. It depicts Dr. Knapp in front of a busy, sunny street scene at the corner of 21st and G streets, with passing pedestrians and the George Washington Museum and The Textile Museum in the background.
Steven Knapp and Diane Robinson Knapp with the new portrait. (William Atkins/GW Today)
Mr. Stevens, B.A. ’76 and M.F.A. ’79, said he didn’t want to depict Dr. Knapp in the “the traditional staid, boring boardroom portrait” with a dark, static background.
“I wanted something lively and animated,” Mr. Stevens said, because as the first GW president to live on the Foggy Bottom campus and as a driving force behind community-focused initiatives like Freshman Day of Service, Dr. Knapp was an integral part of larger, more vital communities than just the school’s administration.
Elisabeth McClanahan, a third-year master’s student in English who is now Dr. Knapp’s research assistant, attended the unveiling and said she thought the portrait was “lovely.”
“I like how he’s kind of in the heart of campus life,” she said. “There’s a sense of him being integrated and involved and in tune with the lives of the students around him.”
Her observation echoed what Dr. Knapp said was among his primary goals as president: “to provide students with a front-row seat to the theater of history.”
“It has been an extraordinary experience, which continues in my faculty role, and I’m very proud and humbled to be part of this great university,” Dr. Knapp said.