Researching a Posthumous Portrait

The rain left and it was a beautiful, blue-sky, October afternoon at Baylor University for the unveiling of my posthumous portrait of Dr. Gordon K. Teal in their brand new Elliston Chapel.


The portrait will hang in the lobby of Baylor’s Gordon Teal Residential College which houses their Engineering and Computer Science students. Here is the portrait (48 x 36, oil on linen).

Original oil painting by Brenda Hash. Photographed by Alvin W. Gee. The portrait is hanging in the entry of Teal Residential College at Baylor University.

Dr. Teal was a fascinating man to research, and I thought it would be helpful to portrait artists out there to walk through my research on this painting. The easiest part would be getting the likeness. Whoops, did I say easy? It didn’t take long to realize that I would only have one good black and white photo from which to work. I wanted the composition to be my own original ideas, so I only used the head from that reference. A stand-in model was used for the body and some inference from old, faded, color photos marginally helped with getting his complexion right. The eye color I corroborated with a surviving son.

But, none of this gets at the true essence of a good portrait. Of course, without the likeness I guess you really don’t have a good portrait. So what is the true essence of a portrait? To me it’s giving someone a reason to look at this portrait longer and want to know this person better. In this particular case, I wanted to also inspire the next generation of engineers to greater heights. I needed to find out what it was about Gordon Teal that needed to be said; that would entice people to be curious about him or even to aspire to be like him.

Google is your friend when it comes to an individual who has a Wikipedia page. I interviewed family members and faculty at Baylor University and sat many hours digging through Dr. Teal’s research papers in an archive on Baylor University’s campus called The Texas Collection.

Several months into my research a very poignant moment occurred as I sat reading through the IEEE History Center’s online, oral-history interview of Dr. Teal. It’s a transcription of an interview I had skimmed several times for ideas for the portrait, and it gave me some insight into Dr. Teal’s personality and accomplishments. On this occasion I noticed an MP3 audio file, so I clicked on it and out came the voice of Gordon Teal. It was a true gift and a sobering moment to hear Dr. Teal’s voice.

My research was starting to solidify around a few ideas. Dr.Teal’s oral history is on the above site because he was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor given by this widely known professional engineering organization. So I chose to depict that medal in my portrait as a large medallion in a wall mounted display case. The second medal you see in that case depicts his Inventors Hall of Fame Medal. I chose to include this medal because Dr. Teal holds 64 patents in the U.S. and other countries. If you look closely at the medal you can see it includes a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison. Given its positions in the painting Thomas Edison seems to be smiling at Dr. Teal, suggesting a bond between inventors.

Dr. Gordon K. Teal (display case detail), oil, 48x36

A second article I found inspiring was one Dr. Teal had written in 1962. The article is titled, “The Role of Materials in the Electronics World of 2012 A.D.”.  It was his 50-year look-ahead predicting what has become our past. Take a look at how close he was:

– In 1962 Dr. Teal predicted that “children would be educated by electronic teaching machines”.  We still have flesh and blood teachers, but even elementary schools are now outfitted with PCs, laptops, and tablets, and how about those on-line degree programs.

– He said we would “work in automated industries and offices”.  Many jobs have gone the way of the robot, you can walk into a room and the lights come on automatically or place your hands under a faucet and the water begins to run.

– Dr. Teal predicted we would “live in homes with walls that provide cooling, heating and lighting”.  Today we can control cooling, heating and lighting remotely from our mobile phones and even lock the doors.

– He said we would “enjoy three-dimensional color stereophonic television and telephone”.  Sounds like virtual reality, 3D television sets, and Skype.

– He said we would “conduct all financial transactions using coded identification cards”.  How many credit and debit cards are in your wallet? How about that banking app on your tablet or mobile phone?

– He predicted we would be able to “voice our opinions on national and local government policies by voting electronically from our homes”.  We might not be able to vote from home, but we can tweet our opinions to national news outlets and have those opinions shared across the world, on the air, live.

– Dr. Teal predicted we would have the “contents of even the rarest books available within minutes at the neighborhood information service”.  We can access them immediately, right on our mobile devices. Google this… Library of Congress, Digital Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections and there they are at your fingertips.

– He predicted we would “enjoy a long and healthful life through computer use which would provide diagnoses with minimum probability of error and would prescribe with maximum probability of cure”.  Take a look at IBM’s cognitive computing machine named Watson and see how this thinking machine is aiding doctor’s to more accurately diagnose and treat their patients.

Dr. Teal wrote these predictions and more in 1962. The accuracy of his predictions is astonishing, and it was this characteristic that kept showing up in my research; an imagination, a creativity, a vision that was unfettered by the notion that it can’t be done.  My challenge was to find a way to portray this characteristic in his portrait?

At Bell Labs Dr. Teal felt there were limitations to the poly-crystal transistor technology that could be resolved by creating a high-purity, high-perfection, single crystal of germanium. This idea was met with uncertainty from his boss and his peers. He had to pursue the idea on his own time, invent the machine that would pull the crystals, and then prove their worth. In the end, it was admitted that practically all advances at Bell Telephone Laboratories during those years in transistor electronics and transistor physics were based on the availability of single-crystal material.

When Dr. Teal moved to Dallas to become director of the first research department at Texas Instruments he took this high-purity, single-crystal idea and applied it to silicon.

Since much of his notable work dealt with single-crystal germanium and silicon, I included the symbols for both chemical elements in the carving detail at the top corners of the display case.

I also included a carving of the state of Texas at the base of that display case to point to his days at Texas Instruments (see previous detail) and carvings of bells in the wood work on the table to allude to Dr. Teal’s days at Bell Labs (see detail below).

These elements start tying together Dr. Teal’s accomplishments, but it was the story from Dr. Teal’s early years at Texas Instruments that became the final inspiration for my portrait. Dr. Teal attended the IRE National Conference on Airborne Electronics in Dayton, Ohio, on May 10, 1954 and was to be the last presenter in a long list of speakers addressing different research topics. The presenters going before him were questioned by the audience including folks from the electronics industry, the military and the press about the expected availability of the silicon transistor. The response was consistent. Silicon transistors were not ready. Be happy with the existing germanium transistors.

Dr. Teal’s paper was about to reveal that TI was in production of three different silicon transistors. Realizing the increasing impact this news would have on the audience, he hand-edited his final paragraph. When he finally took the stage he presented his 31-page paper with little hint at the shocking new ending. And then it came, TI has “successfully constructed n-p-n silicon grown-junction transistors and have developed the process to a point such that our company now has three types of silicon transistors in production. They forecast an exciting future for silicon materials and devices, and one which will strongly affect circuits and apparatus designs in the years to come [here is the hand-written edit]…and contrary [to] the opinions expressed in this morning’s session this will begin immediately.” When questioned by the stupefied audience concerning whether TI was actually in production of the silicon transistor, Dr. Teal said, “Yes. I just happen to have some here in my coat pocket.” He then gives them a practical demonstration of its effectiveness and everyone clamors for copies of the paper. What a glorious moment.

You can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon an image of the last page of that research paper with Dr. Teal’s hand-written edits in Baylor’s Texas Collection archives.

That was the moment I was looking for, the point in time that described the characteristic of a man with imagination, creativity, and vision that was unfettered by the notion that it can’t be done.  My portrait depicts Dr. Teal having just read the last line of his hand-written edits and reaching into his pocket to show the world the silicon transistor.

Dr. Gordon K. Teal (detail research paper), oil, 48x36

Take the time to do your sitters justice. Give the viewer a reason to look at your portrait longer and to want to know your sitter better. Inspire!

4 Comments on Researching a Posthumous Portrait

  • Margaret Barnhart says:
    November 3, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Outstanding creativity and craftsmanship. This painting will surely inspire Baylor students for years to come. Thank you for your determination to bring dignity and perfection to the world of art. I’m proud to be your student.


    • Brenda Hash says:
      November 3, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Margaret, Thank you for visiting my website and for being a student that sees the deeper meanings in paintings. You inspire me.


  • Debra Jan Hall says:
    October 29, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Brenda you are absolutely amazing , astonishing, & profoundly talented. You commitment to a portrait is more than a rendering . . . It truly tells a life story!!!! Wow! Thank you for your inspiration as an artist, storyteller & researcher.


    • Brenda Hash says:
      November 1, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Debra Jan, Thanks for spending the time to read my thoughts about the portrait process. Your words are too kind.


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