Last week, we lost USC’s transformational and beloved tenth president Steven B. Sample. As current president C. L. Max Nikias mentions in his note to the USC community, Dr. Sample played a crucial role in the history of USC:
“During his exceptionally productive tenure, which spanned nearly two decades, Dr. Sample led our university on its dramatic, historic ascent. Thanks to his tactical leadership, prudent foresight, and fixed dedication, USC became one of the most selective universities in the nation, attracted nationally renowned faculty, increased its international stature and reach, and built enduring, meaningful partnerships with its local communities. […] On a more personal note, Dr. Sample was also a very special human being, and a charismatic presence on our campuses. He stood over our Trojan Family, and commanded that rare mixture of admiration, affection, and authority. Dr. Sample taught scores of students, generously advised faculty, and stopped routinely to speak with—and encourage—staff.”
Hence, we think the best way to memorialize Dr. Sample would be through sharing the story of the Trojan Family Tapestry, of which Dr. Sample was also a part.
In 2008, the USC Ronal Tutor Campus Center commissioned artist John Nava to create the Trojan Family Tapestry as the signature commission of the building’s Art & Trojan Traditions program, at the suggestion of USC Fisher Museum of Art Director Selma Holo.
Artist John Nava working on the Trojan Family Tapestry
Dedicated to the representation of our diverse USC community in the present moment, Nava used all real USC students and staff as models, in addition to then-USC president Steven Sample and Campus Center donor Ronald Tutor. He also contacted USC Libraries to retrieve ancient and historical texts in the USC archives to create the “information field” that makes up the background of the tapestry and in which the lives of the students are embedded.
The twenty-two by twenty-two foot tapestry was completed and permanently installed in June 2010, in time for the Presidential Opening of the newly completed Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
Trojan Family Tapestry installed at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center
When Dr. Sample was asked if he recognized his likeness in the tapestry, he replied, “I recognize the University.” in its first months of display, the tapestry has already become a symbol of Trojan spirit and pride, in addition to being an important public work of art on the University of Southern California campus. The tapestry was then given to the Fisher Museum as a memory of the critical role the museum played in the genesis of it.
We love the tapestry because it speaks of the great institution of USC. But we especially love the painting because it speaks of the man himself in a more personal manner, depicting his openness and warmth.
Rest in peace, Steven B. Sample.
JOHN NAVA (born 1947) is an American artist whose work can be found in collections throughout the world, including the United States, Europe and Japan. He is best known for his series of thirty-six tapestries at the Los Angeles Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States. Nava’s tapestries are technically sophisticated and intellectually complex. His original vision combines with the strong regard for art historical traditions and conventions, while being indisputably contemporary in its expressive content.