Kevin Saltau ’01 painting the mural
Students asked Kevin Soltau ’01 to come back and point three more portraits.

Kevin Soltau ’01 will not soon forget the week he slept in the Octagon. It was the summer before his senior year, and after months of research, he was painting a mural of black alumni who’d inspired him. On a ladder, brush in hand, he worked all day and into the night.

“Security would come by, and I’d say, ‘In a couple of hours I’ll be out of here,’” Soltau says, but when he got too tired, he simply rolled out a sleeping bag and closed his eyes.

This winter a new generation of students approached Soltau with an idea: Would he come back to the Octagon and add more faces?

“At first I was hesitant,” says Soltau, a lower-school art teacher in Atlanta, who majored in fine arts at Amherst. “My original idea was that it would continue to live on through other people.” In fact, it had: over the years, two artists, including Renata Robinson-Glenn ’04, had added eight new faces.

But students wanted to meet Soltau, and he was drawn to the symmetry of their request: In selecting people for the original mural, which fills one wall in the Octagon’s Gerald Penny ’77 Center, he’d spent time on the phone with African-American alumni, hearing their stories. He agreed to come back on the condition that current students pick the new faces.

Students asked Soltau to come back and paint three more portraits.

“We wanted people we had personal connections with,” says Ajanae Bennett ’16, a member of the Black Student Union’s executive board.

Kevin Saltau ’01
Kevin Soltau ’01

Soltau arrived in February to add the images of Professor Rhonda Cobham-Sander, Dean Charri Boykin-East and the Rev. Timothy Jones ’05E—each of whom has inspired current BSU members. Jones—the Hermenia T. Gardner Bi-Semester Christian Worship Series Fellow at Amherst—was on vacation when he heard the news.

“I started screaming, ‘I’m on the wall! I’m on the wall!’” Jones says. “I can’t express how humbled I am.”

Bennett researched the many people in the mural for a Special Topics course on the Amherst black experience. “It means a lot,” she says, “to see black alumni who have done so much for their communities.”

She hopes to see herself there someday. “It’s beyond inspiring,” Bennett says of the artwork. “It makes me realize what I can do after Amherst and who I can become. It’s propelling me.”

Who's Who on the Wall?

Octagon Mural

1: ONAWUMI JEAN MOSS retired in 2006 as associate dean of students at Amherst. She is a wellknown storyteller.

2: CAN YOU identify this person? Email magazine@amherst.edu.

3: BONNIE JENKINS ’82 is coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department. She served in the Naval Reserve and on the 9/11 Commission.

4: CAN YOU identify this person? Email magazine@amherst.edu.

5: ALLISON MOORE-LAKE ’82 is deputy director of the Westchester Children’s Association.

6: LISA EVANS ’85 is scientific workforce diversity officer at the National Institutes of Health.

7: CAN YOU identify this person? Email magazine@amherst.edu.

8: MARGARET VENDRYES ’84, now an associate professor at York College, was Soltau’s adviser on the mural.

9: TARA (FULLER) LAMOURT ’80 is an oil painter who launched the company Handmade By Design.

10: EDWARD JONES, class of 1826, he College’s first African-American graduate, became principal of the Fourah Bay Christian Association in Sierra Leone.

11: DR. CHARLES DREW ’26 discovered the chemical method for preserving blood. As a leader in his field, he protested racial segregation in blood donation.

12: WILLIAM HASTIE ’25 was the first African-American to serve as governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and as a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals.

13: MERCER COOK ’25 was the first American ambassador to Gambia. He was also ambassador to Senegal and Niger.

14: CHARLES HAMILTON HOUSTON, class of 1915, was the legal architect of Brown v. Board of Education. He was known as “the man who killed Jim Crow.”

15: RHONDA COBHAM-SANDER is the Emily C. Jordon Folger Professor of Black Studies and English at Amherst.

16: DR. CUTHBERT SIMPKINS II ’69 is a trauma surgeon and professor of medicine who also wrote a biography of John Coltrane.

17: JESSE WARR ’69 is proprietor of a San Francisco Bay Area sightseeing service.

18: HAROLD WADE JR. ’68 wrote Black Men of Amherst, published in 1976, two years after his death.

19: SONYA CLARK ’89 is an award-winning artist who chairs the craft and material studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts.

20: ANTHONY JACK ’07, a sociologist, studies the experiences of low-income, first-generation undergraduates at elite schools.

21: CAN YOU identify this person? Email magazine@amherst.edu.

22: HENRY G. RHONE ’68 is retired as vice provost for student affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

23: WAYNE WORMLEY ’72 has a management consulting firm and is interim dean of professional studies and workforce development at Bunker Hill Community College.

24: UTHMAN F. MUHAMMAD ’70, P’99, ’02 (formerly C.P. Ward) is an educator and a community, political and Islamic (Mu’min) activist.

25: WILLIAM CLARENCE ROBINSON III ’68 was a real estate broker.

26: TIMOTHY JONES ’05E is senior pastor at Community Baptist Church in New Haven.

27: CHARRI BOYKIN-EAST is Amherst’s senior associate dean of students.

28: GEORGE JOHNSON ’73 is dean emeritus of the Elon University School of Law.