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News: Art exhibit closing reception connects Roane State to beloved professor’s legacy

March 15, 2024

By Deborah Robbins
Roane State staff writer

A woman standing outside in front of a brick wall.

Roane State’s Powers|Brown Art Gallery held a special reception in January to honor an artist, not only for her talent, but also for her connection to a cherished professor at the college.

Theresa Lee, mother of the late Dr. Arthur C. Lee, was in attendance to showcase her exhibit titled “A Joyous Journey.” The exhibit featured more than 20 unique pieces capturing an impressive stylistic range varying from realism to nonobjective emotive works.

Mrs. Lee earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and has experimented with watercolor, collages, inks, and acrylics. Her pieces have been displayed internationally, with a notable show in Paris in 2019.

Her son, Dr. Lee, was a beloved Roane State geology professor with a passion for education and enriching the lives of students. He passed away in 2022.

The closing reception for Mrs. Lee’s exhibit was part of Roane State’s annual Spring Convocation, a time for faculty and staff to connect for professional development, employee recognition, and important updates ahead of the new semester.

Convocation attendees joined students and the larger Roane State community at the reception to show their support for Theresa Lee and to remember Dr. Lee’s lasting impact.

“It was a tremendous honor and pleasure to be invited to have an art exhibition at RSCC,” Mrs. Lee said. “Because my beloved son, Dr. Arthur Lee, taught and lived here for so many years, this show carried special meaning for me. To have a show where he taught gave me the opportunity to meet so many of the good people he cared about and who, in turn, cared about him.”

“Arthur spoke to me often about his students, his colleagues, and his friends here at RSCC,” Mrs. Lee added. “During my visit and at the reception for my art show, I experienced the warmth and open-armed welcome that he spoke about with such emphatic appreciation. This memory is one I will forever remember and cherish.”

Three people standing in an art gallery.

“This was a truly special moment for our faculty and staff to be able to meet Mrs. Lee and view her artwork,” Roane State President Chris Whaley said. “Arthur was one of the smartest people I have ever known, and it was absolutely our honor to call him a member of the Roane State family for more than 20 years.”

Bryan Wilkerson, art professor and the college’s gallery director, helped organize the exhibit of Theresa Lee’s work. Wilkerson worked with Dr. Arthur Lee during much of his time at Roane State and said he was immediately taken with Lee’s kindness upon meeting him.

“Dr. Lee was one of the first people to reach out and get to know me, and [he] invited me to lunch one day in Oak Ridge,” Wilkerson shared. “As a new person still learning the ins and outs of the college, it was a well-received gesture. This act of kindness, and his quirky personality has always been a nice memory.”

Wilkerson said having Theresa Lee visit campus for the closing reception made the event an even more meaningful experience.

“She is a tremendously knowledgeable and skilled artist in a variety of mediums,” Wilkerson added. “Being able to work directly with the artist, who has such a personal connection to the college, made this extra special.”

Roane State Foundation staff assisted with the planning of the exhibit and closing reception, working together with Wilkerson to select pieces and coordinate with Mrs. Lee.

“Both the college and the Foundation are tremendous supporters of the arts, and we are incredibly grateful to Theresa Lee for sharing her paintings with us for this exhibit,” Roane State Foundation Executive Director Scott Niermann said. “We are fortunate to have a venue for showcasing artists on our Roane County Campus and plan to feature many more in the future.”

Since Dr. Lee’s passing, a memorial scholarship has been set up in his honor, and the funds will go to a Roane State student each year. Donations to the scholarship can be made online at

For details on Roane State’s art gallery or current exhibits, visit

A group of people standing in front of paintings in an art gallery.

Pictured left to right: RSCC President Chris Whaley, RSCC Art Professor and Gallery Director Bryan Wilkerson, Dr. Annette Lee, Artist Theresa Lee, Roane State Foundation Director of Fundraising Operations Dina Jackson, RSCC Humanities Division Faculty Emeritus Anne Powers, and Roane State Foundation Executive Director Scott Niermann.

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