Since the 1990s, there have been student groups advocating for a statue on campus dedicated to Sen. Matthew Gaines. Legislation was passed in 2017 from several student organizations, including Texas A&M’s Student Government Association, in support of a statue dedicated to Gaines.
In order to honor Matthew Gaines’s contribution to the creation of A&M, the Matthew Gaines Student Art Exhibit will be on display from Jan. 15 to Feb. 29 in the Reynolds Gallery. The exhibit will host a closing reception on Feb. 27 from 7 to 9 p.m.
Aggies are working to raise $350,000 in order to fund the development of the statue. The artwork is part of the Everybody Gaines Initiative to promote the cause, said McKinsey Meeker, MSC Visual Arts Committee Chair.
“When researching this exhibit along with the Matthew Gaines Initiative, we noticed that there were very few images of Matthew Gaines,” Meeker said. “So we encouraged students to submit portraits of Matthew Gaines to help fill this void.”
Senator Gaines was born a slave and went on to become a Baptist preacher and then a Texas state senator and fighter for access to public education, helping pass the Land-Grant Act of 1861. This act helped create the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now known as Texas A&M.
Gaines’s legacy and connection to A&M is honored in the Matthew Gaines Student Art Exhibit with student-created pieces that depict Gaines’s life and work.
“I helped plan, propose, curate, and install the exhibit along with other VAC executives and members,” Meeker said. “The artwork was collected from those participating in the exhibit, and all wall text panels were printed.”
One of those members who helped organize the exhibit was MSC Visual Arts Committee Program Advisor Mary Compton, who led a curatorial team and the VAC executive team in the development of the exhibition.
“The details about Matthew Gaines were the focus of our research for the exhibit,” Compton said. “I think we did a good job of finding new facts about him, as well as validating things that we knew but needed to document.”
Both Meeker and Compton said that their favorite part of the exhibition was the artwork created by students consisting of large paintings and smaller drawings of Gaines’s profile.
Along with Gaines, there were several prominent African Americans in politics at the time that Compton learned about while researching for the exhibit, which she said ought to be remembered as well.
“I was struck by the number of other African Americans who were active in politics in the period of Reconstruction,” Compton said. “Matthew Gaines was significant to the Texas A&M story and to the Brazos Valley, but there were a number of other senators, representatives and civil servants from all over Texas who played a role in politics. I think that gets overlooked in the broad historical narrative.”