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51 Miss Alumna Jan Larsen Gifts Artwork to University

Fri, 05/03/2024 - 09:25am | By: David Tisdale

Jan Larsen

Jan Holifield Larsen ’83 got the inspiration she’d been looking for upon opening the invitation to the investiture ceremony of University of 51 Mississippi President Dr. Joseph S. Paul, a friend and mentor from her days as a 51 Miss student.

The invitation to Dr. Paul’s formal installation as president featured an embossed replica of “The Dome,” as the University’s Aubrey Keith Lucas Administration Building has been affectionately known for generations. Larsen, an artist living in Texas and a dedicated alumna, had been commissioned by Dr. Paul to produce a piece of art for the building.

The word “iconic” immediately came to mind as Larsen looked over the invitation, for more than one reason. In her view, both Dr. Paul and the historic building housing his office are equally symbolic of USM – one being a living, breathing representative of the school who’s inspired her and countless of its current and former students to achieve their goals, the other a nearly century-old centerpiece campus edifice near and dear to Golden Eagles. The choice for the title was apparent: “The Icon” now hangs in the building’s President’s Conference Room.

“When Dr. Paul commissioned me to do a painting for the Administration Building, I was humbled and honored,” Larsen recounted. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t let him down.” A reception and presentation by the artist of the painting was held in early March, with Dr. and Mrs. Paul and others on hand for the event.

“But how ironic was it to be asked to paint an icon for an individual who is an icon to so many of us?” she continued. “It was very easy to name this painting ‘The Icon’.”

While spending approximately 75 hours working on her abstract depiction of the Administration Building, Larsen reflected on the foundation USM gave her “to go out and create a meaningful career and establish some lifetime relationships along the way.”

During her time as a student, President Paul, who was then a Division of Student Affairs administrator, encouraged her to interview for 51 Style, the select group of student leaders who wear gold blazers and connect incoming students to the institution.

Larsen said it was through Dr. Paul’s encouragement and the opportunity to be a part of 51 Style that “made my college years extra special,” Larsen recounted, further noting she still considers it an honor to have served as one of its members.

“I’m extremely grateful for that foundation and the impact Dr. Paul has had on me, as well as the thousands of other former and current students in his sphere of influence and mentorship,” Larsen said. “He is truly ‘The USM Icon’ of our time.”

“When The Icon was revealed to us, I was blown away!” said Dr. Paul. “Jan is a dedicated alumna, a talented artist and a great friend. She worked so long and hard to make this piece special and then generously gifted it to her alma mater. I am proud to have her artwork on display in The Dome for all to see and enjoy.”

A native of Hattiesburg, Larsen and her family moved to Taylorsville when she was three, where her father had bought a hardware store. After finishing high school there, she decided to attend USM to major in education; in addition to her participation in 51 Style, she was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and served as a Resident Assistant at the University, while also working in its Wilbur (Panhellenic) Residence Hall.

Following a career in cardiac medical device sales, Larsen decided to pursue a lifelong interest in art, taking an art class in the early 2000s as part of a new year’s resolution. That decision led her to a productive 20-plus year career as an artist, with her paintings hanging in homes across the country.

“Each painting I do is unique, and I enjoy the way each piece evolves over time and guides me through completion,” Larsen said. “I enjoy painting larger format paintings and use acrylic paint with various layers of color and texture.” 

Larsen says she draws inspiration for her art from the serene beauty of the Texas Hill Country, along with “events that stir my soul, insightful quotes, profound wisdom that comes from books, especially the Bible, and also from meaningful friendships.” 

“I always sign my work with a tiny wooden cross as a reminder of my faith and the blessings in life,” Larsen further noted. “I also try to incorporate a few sparkles into each painting because I love to see the sparkles in everyday life.”

Larsen says it brought her immense joy to present “The Icon” to the University. “USM will always be very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I’m thankful for this great honor.”

(USM photo by Kelly Dunn)