Feature Story

December 7, 2020 | By Cole Hatcher

Ross Art Museum preparator Stephen Perakis (left) and OWU Historical Collection curator Eugene Rutigliano uncrate oil paintings of former Ohio Wesleyan President and First Lady Frederick and Fidelia Merrick. The paintings were gifted to the University by Merrick descendant Barry Francis. (Photo by Darrell Albon)

A Great, Great, Great Gift

Relative of Ohio Wesleyan’s Second President Donates Portraits to University

Helen Frances Merrick ’41

Oil paintings of former Ohio Wesleyan University President and First Lady Frederick and Fidelia Merrick soon will grace the campus building named in their honor.

Frederick Merrick

The portraits, created in 1835 by acclaimed American portraitist Joseph Whiting Stock, are being donated to the University by Barry Francis of Toronto, Ontario – Frederick Merrick’s great, great, great nephew. Francis’s mother, the late Helen Frances Merrick, was a 1941 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan.

Fidelia Merrick

Where ‘They Belong’

“I am delighted to have been able to donate the paintings to the University where I feel they belong, and to do that in my mother’s name was a source of considerable satisfaction,” Francis said. “I know she would have approved.”

Frederick Merrick, who served as Ohio Wesleyan’s second president from 1860 to 1873, was the brother of his mother’s great, great grandfather, Roderick Smith Merrick, Francis said.

“The paintings of Frederick and Fidelia were hung as long as I can remember in a place of honor in each the three homes my grandparents lived in, in and around Annapolis, Maryland,” Francis said. “Roderick S. Merrick Jr., Helen’s father, was a history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. The paintings subsequently came north to Toronto with my grandmother, Lillian Merrick, when she came to live with myself and the Francis side of the family in the 1980s.” (Francis inherited the paintings from his grandmother.)

An Accomplished Alumna

Although Francis has not yet visited Ohio Wesleyan, his mother truly loved the University, he said. As an OWU student, Helen Merrick studied English and French, and her campus involvement included the Pi Beta Phi sorority, Bible Club, Century Club, Singer’s Club, Wesleyan Players, and Women’s Athletic Association.

“She moved with my Canadian father to Toronto from Annapolis in the 1940s after he completed his service in the Canadian Army in Europe,” Francis said. “She began a long career as a primary school teacher (kindergarten) in the 1950s.”

Preparing for the Public

The oil paintings of Frederick and Fidelia Merrick arrived at the University earlier this fall. Following some minor restoration, they will be installed on the third floor of Merrick Hall, said Darrell Albon, who oversees the historic building as part of his work overseeing The OWU Connection program, which is housed there.

“I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Francis for this gift,” said Albon, director of OWU’s International and Off-Campus Programs and administrative director of The OWU Connection. “It is a very kind thing to do as it brings back to campus artifacts of Ohio Wesleyan’s heritage so that they can be displayed and seen publicly.”

A Prolific Artist

Each oil painting is 30 inches by 25 inches and dated 1835. Both are reproduced in the 1976 book “The Paintings and Journal of Joseph Whiting Stock,” published by Wesleyan University Press. Francis has donated his copy of the book to the University along with the paintings.

Stock, who lived from 1815 to 1855, was known for creating miniature and landscape paintings in addition to full-length portraits of children and half-length portraits of adults. He began painting as a means to support himself after being paralyzed from the waist down in an 1826 oxcart accident.

Between 1832 and 1846, Stock created more than 900 paintings, including those of the Merricks.

A Presidential Legacy

In describing Frederick Merrick and his contributions to both the Ohio Wesleyan and Delaware communities, OWU historian Henry Clyde Hubbart described the one-time campus professor and president as the “Grand Old Man of Delaware.”

A biographical memoir published after Merrick’s death in 1894 states that: “Had an angel visited Delaware and asked us to name our best man and our most useful citizen, our people would have unanimously nominated Frederick Merrick.”

A reverend in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Merrick also was the founder of the Merrick Lecture, which today is Ohio Wesleyan’s oldest running lecture series. It covers topics in experimental and practical religion.

An Anticipated Visit

“I was always told that Frederick Merrick was a distinguished member of the Merrick family based on his important educational involvement with OWU,” his great, great, great nephew said. “Regrettably, I have never personally visited the OWU campus, something I intend to rectify when the COVID restrictions are lifted.”