Patrick O'Meara's legacy honored with artwork donated to Hamilton Lugar School

Visitors to the African Studies Program in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Affairs will notice a new piece of art on display. Titled "The Bright Continent," the beautifully hand-carved piece showcases the continent of Africa.

Ann Marie Thomson, a longtime adjunct faculty member for the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and her husband, Dr. Louis J. Calli Jr., donated the piece to the Hamilton Lugar School in honor of the late Patrick O'Meara, whose illustrious career made an enormous impact on Thomson and many others at Indiana University. O'Meara passed away in March 2021.

Three people stand beside a large carving of the African continentView print quality image
Dr. Louis J. Calli Jr., Ann Marie Thomson and artist Brad Long, from left, stand beside "The Bright Continent." Photo courtesy of George Armstrong

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, O'Meara had a passion for the African continent, its cultures and its people, which showed in every aspect of his five-decade career at IU. Among his many accomplishments, O'Meara was the first vice president for international affairs and served as director of the African Studies Program for more than two decades. IU Press published the first edition of his co-edited textbook "Africa" in 1977, which is now in its fourth edition. The textbook continues to be integral to African studies courses across North America.

O'Meara's gift for communication and his amiable sensibility proved a strength as he represented the university across the globe, connecting with international leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Additionally, he was instrumental in shaping the international study abroad programs that IU is known for today.

"It was Patrick's vision and distinctive ability to bring faculty and students together that led to the numerous academic, programmatic and outreach initiatives that came to define the African Studies Program as a leading center during his leadership in the 1970s to 1990s," said John H. Hanson, history and African studies professor and executive associate dean at the Hamilton Lugar School.

"Patrick was able to bring out the best in students and faculty. Hundreds have counted on his good counsel and advice, as well as warm wishes and constructive guidance, as they navigated their academic careers at IU and elsewhere."

Thomson donated "The Bright Continent" in honor of O'Meara because of the indelible impact he made on her life. She was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to the United States to attend college. When she came to Bloomington to pursue a Master of Arts in the African Studies Program, O'Meara served as a mentor throughout her academic journey and beyond.

Patrick O'Meara stands with his hand on a globe.View print quality image
Patrick O'Meara, seen here in 2007, was IU's first vice president for international affairs and an acclaimed scholar. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

"At every key decision point in my academic career, Patrick's door was always open," Thomson said. "I watched him in action throughout the more than 25 years I have been here at IU. I learned what it means to be a person of integrity, humility and sincerity. Over time, our collegial and professional relationship quite naturally evolved into friendship. Patrick always made anyone he met feel special, a rare and wonderful quality that few people have.

"He and my husband, Jim, also became good friends, and both of us wanted to do something special that would honor Patrick in perpetuity. We knew his passion for art, for the continent of Africa and for his commitment to students. When we saw this beautiful piece of art, we had to buy it and donate it as a permanent part of the IU Art Collection in his honor."

"The Bright Continent" was created by Indianapolis-based artist Brad Long, who was inspired to create the piece after he and his wife adopted two children from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The art piece is a map of Africa made of richly toned wood carvings, pieced together like a puzzle. It took six months to create by hand. Long donated the proceeds from the sale of his artwork to Malembe Rise, an organization dedicated to developing teachers and educating young people in the central African country.

"When I saw this artwork, so beautifully and lovingly crafted, it was as if the wood -- the primary medium of the piece -- called to me in the same way I remember the rainforest trees calling to my vivid imagination," Thomson said, recalling her favorite childhood memories in Africa.

A dedication to O'Meara on the artwork reads, in part, "Mentor, Guide, Model of Integrity, and Friend, not only to Ann Marie and Jim, but to countless others whose lives were touched by this extraordinary man across the African continent and far beyond."

Thomson said she hopes O'Meara's legacy inspires future students who walk the pathways of educational opportunities he helped pave.

Julia Hodson is a communications consultant with IU Studios.