Commission Accomplished: Southern Adventist University

Servant Leader
Servant Leader by Gregory Johnson, brass bas-relief, Wright Hall, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, TN. Photo: Matthew Hadley.

When it came time to select artwork for the newly renovated presidential suite in Southern Adventist University’s Wright Hall, Becky Djernes, interior design coordinator for the school, knew that the piece had to support the institution’s mission: “to graduate servant leaders guided by faith and integrity, and committed to living balanced lives.”

Enter representational sculptor Gregory Johnson, who had completed a medic memorial at the local veterans park a few years prior. “We were attracted to Greg’s attention to detail,” says Djernes of selecting Johnson for the presidential suite project. “He was located relatively close by and could work within our budget.”

“In addition to creating a masterwork, being factually correct became my focal point for this project. Relying on the university’s archeologist was a significant source of visual information. I also relied on a friend who is a Biblical scholar. The result is an interesting setting with Jesus and Peter that serves as a metaphor for service to our fellow man—factually correct and beautifully presented.” —Gregory Johnson, artist

Working from the medallion worn by the university’s president at commencement, which depicts the scene of Jesus washing Peter’s feet, Johnson worked with notes from one of the school’s staff archaeologists to ensure he was creating a work of art that accurately reflected the clothing and objects of the time period.

“Greg also did a lot of research on this project on his own,” says Djernes. “He really thinks about his work and the meaning behind it.”

Installed in January 2013, the bronze bas-relief was revealed at a dedication ceremony, where university administrators participated in a foot washing ceremony of students to symbolize their dedication to servant leadership.

“I suppose we could have purchased an existing work of art or a reproduction for this space,” muses Djernes. “But we wanted this piece to have impact, and this piece definitely has impact.”