Hail to the Chief

The new, hand-crafted wooden display case in the rotunda of the University of Dayton's O'Reilly Hall is more than just a place for a collection of U.S. presidential inaugural medals - part of a new exhibit of portraits and memorabilia from the collections of James F. Dicke II and former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

For Burt Saidel, the retired Dayton dentist, philanthropist and woodworker who made the red oak cabinet as a gift to the College of Arts and Sciences, it is a tribute to his late son, David, whose words are crafted into the poem inscribed on its front surface.

“It is a work of sculpture and it carries the name, ‘Ghinko,’” said Roger Crum, professor of art history, at the cabinet’s dedication on Wednesday, Aug. 17. Crum and Rory Dahlinghaus, a director of development for University Advancement, collaborated on the project, along with Saidel’s 10-year-old grandson, Oliver.

The dedication reception, also attended by University President Eric F. Spina, also marked the opening of the presidential art exhibit, entitled “Hail to the Chief!” Its centerpiece is a set of 20 original etchings produced in 1932 to commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. They are a gift to the College from Dicke, chairman and CEO of Crown Equipment Corp., a prominent collector of American art. The exhibition runs through August 2017.

Saidel and his wife of 60 years, Alice, are longtime supporters of the Dayton arts community. In May, Saidel helped move the Dayton Art Institute's Vanguard Concerts chamber music series to campus under the umbrella of the ArtsLIVE program. While neither of the Saidels attended the University, Burt Saidel said their liberal arts educations elsewhere have greatly enriched their lives.

“Since we have been active in Dayton, I have been so impressed with UD — a great science and technology school that doesn’t give lip service to the arts, but gives full, passionate service to the arts,” Saidel said.

David Alexander Saidel died in 1987 at age 22. He was struck and killed by a car after climbing Mount Olympus in Greece. Burt Saidel said David serves as the guide and inspiration for his cabinetry. “This is the most David piece I have ever made,” he said, regarding the cabinet and its inscribed poem, which he and Crum composed with inspiration from David’s own poetry.

Crum’s voice cracked with emotion as he noted the poem’s words, “… and a Dad’s story,” positioned directly above David’s name on the cabinet.

Taft, distinguished research associate for the University, drew laughter from attendees with an anecdote about traveling as Ohio secretary of state during the 1990s. He assumed voters would know his father and grandfather, who both served as U.S. senators from Ohio, but he asked if anyone remembered his great-grandfather, William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States.

“I was in one county in southern Ohio and a gentleman raised his hand and said, ‘Yeah, I remember William Howard Taft,’” he recalled. “I said, well, how old are you, sir?

‘I’m 105 years old and I voted for Woodrow Wilson.’”

Wilson defeated W.H. Taft in the 1912 presidential election and denied him a second term.

The exhibition includes a number of 1908 William Howard Taft campaign buttons and postcards from the governor’s collection, as well as an autographed portrait of the president.

Most of the 75 items on display are on loan from the Dicke Collection in New Bremen, Ohio. Dicke has been loaning works from his collection for exhibitions in O’Reilly Hall for nearly a decade.

This year’s theme was selected to coincide with the national phase and inaugural ceremonies of the 2016 presidential election. Crum said he hopes it will inspire rich dialogue about the nature of the U.S. presidency’s past, present and future.

Highlights of the show also include a group photograph with autographs from the five living presidents who met in the White House Oval Office in 2009: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In addition, there is a large lithograph of Richard M. Nixon by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Patrick Oliphant; an inauguration platform section marker from the 1933 swearing in of Franklin D. Roosevelt; a National Union Party campaign poster for Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson from the 1864 presidential election; and a White House phone from the Clinton administration. Items are displayed in the rotunda and conference room of O’Reilly Hall.

O’Reilly Hall is located on the campus Central Mall, near the Marycrest Residence Complex. The building is open to the public weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (937) 229-2601.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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