NC State Extension Receives Special Art Donation

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A fine art depiction of an iconic NC State landmark will be displayed in the lobby of the NC State Extension office suite in Patterson Hall on the main campus thanks to the generous donation of a former student.

Dick Workman, who studied geology at NC State, presented an original artwork of the Memorial Belltower by renowned pen and ink artist Jerry Miller to NC State Extension Director Rich Bonanno at an informal ceremony March 11.

Miller, who also attended NC State, attended the presentation, as did College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Garey Fox; vice chancellor for student affairs emeritus — and unofficial Belltower historian — Tom Stafford; Susan Kelly, Extension assistant director for county operations; and Mike Yoder, Extension 4-H state program leader.

NC State Extension art donation Jerry Miller

Artist Jerry Miller and NC State Extension Director Rich Bonanno with Miller’s pen and ink depiction of the Memorial Belltower, created circa 1975.

“Mr. Miller, I read something that said you didn’t intend to be an artist,” Bonanno said. “Well we’re glad that you became an artist. We’re glad that you did this and we’re grateful that we have the opportunity to have it in our office. Mr. Workman, I really appreciate you thinking of us as well.”

Miller was an architectural draftsman when he and his wife Jean moved to Cary in 1957. He designed his own house, then drew the plans for most of the other houses in the neighborhood. In the 1960s, he combined his love for architecture and art and began drawing buildings that caught his eye.

That included structures on the nearby campus of NC State, where he had attended classes. The 115-foot tall Memorial Belltower, built between 1921 and 1937 to honor the sacrifice of NC State alumni who lost their lives to military service in World War I, was one of his favorite subjects.

“I took a lot of photographs of it, and did my drawings from those,” Miller said.

He estimates he finished the artwork presented to NC State Extension about 1975.

NC State Extension art donation Jerry Miller

Dick Workman, a former geology student at NC State and current NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteer in Ashe County, donates an original Jerry Miller pen and ink artwork of the Memorial Belltower to Extension Director Rich Bonanno.

Workman grew up in Cameron Village in Raleigh, and as a child used the NC State grounds as a playground. He became good friends with Miller when the artist lived on the same street in Cary as Workman’s brother-in-law.

“We go back over half a century,” Workman said. “We have had so many good, good times together.”

Workman was looking at artwork in Miller’s house one day and saw the drawing of the belltower. 

“Dick started looking at my paintings and drawings, and I had that picture, along with all my originals, in a plastic bag so that you wouldn’t get mildewed,” Miller said. “He pulled it out and said, ‘So what do you want for that one?’ I said, ‘It’s not for sale.’ He said, ‘I’ve got the money.’ I said, ‘You’ve been my friend for all these years. I’m going to give it to you.’ That’s how he got his hands on it.”

Workman is an NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteer in Ashe County. He presented the print to Travis Birdsell, the director of Extension’s Ashe County Center, and received it back earlier this year when Birdsell left Extension.

“I decided that it really should come home,” Workman said. “Folks, it’s a pleasure and honor for me to be standing here and presenting this. Jerry Miller, 50 to 100 years from now will be known as, in my opinion, the Michelangelo of pen and ink artists.”

NC State Extension art donation Jerry Miller

Renowned pen and ink artist Jerry Miller.

The drawing is familiar to many NC State alumni, faculty and staff members. Stafford has given hundreds of prints to ROTC graduates and people who retired from the division of Student Affairs over the 30 years he was the head. 

This was the second time a depiction of the belltower by Miller was presented on campus. In 1985, he was commissioned to create a watercolor of the structure, which was given to President Ronald Reagan during a visit to NC State.

“They presented it and said the artist, Jerry Miller, is sitting right there,” Miller said. “He turned around and said, ‘Thank you so much. That is beautiful. I’m going to put that on my wall in my library.’”

Miller has also given a drawing of the Duke University Chapel to President George H.W. Bush, and created an egg to represent North Carolina that was displayed at the White House when Bill Clinton was president.

NC State Extension art donation Jerry Miller

Jerry Miller and Rich Bonanno with a previously obtained collage of the NC State campus created by Miller.

“I took a pen and drew the state of North Carolina,” he said. “Then I did the seal of North Carolina in the middle of it, and I wrote ‘the Great State of North Carolina.’ I drew the governor’s mansion, the Biltmore, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. I did a covered bridge, a squirrel, and tobacco leaves. I did everything that pertains to North Carolina on that egg. The woman who came out to pick it up could hardly believe I got all that on one egg.”

Miller is a native of Sanford. He was honored by Cary town officials with the unveiling of a bronze bust of him outside the Cary Arts Center in 2022 to commemorate his work with the local arts community, including founding Cary’s Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival.