Miss Ida Center
Courtesy Meredith College Archives
Carlyle Campbell Library
From DICTIONARY OF NORTH CAROLINA BIOGRAPHY, Volumes 1-7, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. http://www.uncpress.unc.eduSEE: The Acorn (student publication, Meredith College, Raleigh) 22 (October 1940 [portrait]); Annual of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention (1940) [portrait]); Peter H. Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (1985); Mary Lynch Johnson, A History of Meredith College (1972); Meredith College Quarterly Bulletin, ser. 34 (November 1940); Raleigh News and Observer, 16 Dec. 1938, 2 Feb., 16 Dec. 1940.
Poteat, Ida Isabella (15 Dec. 1858-1 Feb. 1940), artist, teacher, craftsman, and patron of art, was born at Forest Home near Yanceyville in Caswell County, the daughter of James and Julia A. McNeill Poteat. She received early education locally and at the Raleigh Female Seminary, then studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Cooper Union Art School in New York, and the School of Applied Design in Philadelphia. In New York she was a private pupil of William M. Chase, president of the Society of American Artists. Among her other teachers were Robert Henri, Charles Parsons, and Louis Mounier.
For a time she was an art instructor at Oxford Seminary in Oxford, Granville County, but with the opening on 27 Sept. 1899 of the Baptist Female University in Raleigh (now Meredith College), she joined the faculty as professor of art, a position she held until her death more than forty years later. Ida Poteat taught and inspired hundreds of young people both as students at Meredith College and in private classes, one of whom was the artist Francis Speight. Of her, Speight wrote: "Not only did she encourage us to appreciate fine forms and colors, but she encouraged us also to see beauty in humble things."
In 1924 the faculty at Meredith College established a lasting tradition of presenting a stage production of "Alice in Wonderland" every four years. Much to the delight of students and the public, the faculty played leading roles. Ida Poteat designed the costumes and made fantastic masks. Of a more serious nature, she also had designed the seal adopted by the college in 1909.
A devout Baptist, she was the sister of William Louis and E. McNeill Poteat. A portrait of her hangs in Poteat Hall on the Meredith campus. She was buried in the First Baptist Church of Yanceyville cemetery.
While preeminent North Carolina historian William S. Powell came to know Caswell County history fairly well when he researched When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977 (1977), those who grew up with the Poteat family possess a keener personal insight into the family. Here are the observations of Caswell County native Mary McAden Satterfield as published in The Heritage of Caswell County North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 436:
Ida Isabella Poteat, born in 1858, went to Raleigh Female Academy. She then went to New York to study at Cooper Union. She taught art at Oxford Seminary before coming to Meredith College when its doors were opened in 1899. Later she studied in new York with Robert Henri, with Monnier, and at the School of Fine and Applied Arts. She spent several summers abroad studying in London, Florence, Venice, and Carcassonne. She studied with William Chase and others.
So great was her love of the beautiful and so keen her perception of it in the world about her that rarely one came into contact with her who did not carry away a deeper and greater appreciation of the aesthetic and a deeper love of nature. As head of the Department of Art she created beauty in her own lovely paintings. She interpreted the beauty of the work of others and she opened the eyes of those who knew her to the beauty that is in everyday life.
As teacher of college students her influence can never be estimated. Her love of beauty--her translation of the principles of beauty--permeated the whole college, reached into thousands of homes throughout the land. Her reverence for personality helped her see and believe in the latent beauty in every person on the campus, and instinctively each rose to higher levels because of her. She possessed a radiant personality. In intellectual acumen and in spiritual strength and beauty Miss Ida measured every inch of her brothers' equal.
In 1925, Ida Isabella Poteat visited Europe with her niece Helen Purefoy Poteat Stallings and Helen's husband, the famous author and playwright Laurence Stallings. Helen Poteat Stallings was the youngest daughter of Dr. William Louis Poteat, Ida's older brother. The ship (President Roosevelt) passenger manifest oddly lists Ida Poteat's date of birth as 15 December 1866 and her age as 60. Whether this was Ida Poteat's final trip to Europe is unknown.
Edwin McNeill Poteat (President of Furman University), wrote of Miss Ida:
She sat before an easel. She would paint,
She said, in colors soft and warmly blent,
With brushes sensitive to her intent,
The radiant portrait of a living saint.
Her brush moved easily, without restraint,
And soon the face appeared in lineament
And then in colors, exquisitely faint.
When she finished, eighty years were spent.
Consummate art. No hint of selfishness
Cast its dull shadow, not the slightest trace
Of pride or fear, of grief or bitterness
Dimmed the soft rapture of the lovely face.
She rose and laid the brushes on the shelf
And looked; and, lo, the portrait was herself.