FRANKFORT — Award-winning author and illustrator Synthia Saint James unveiled a specially commissioned painting Wednesday in Kentucky State University’s Student Ballroom to commemorate the University’s 130th anniversary. The vivid 48 by 36-inch piece depicts the University’s campus life and diversity.

Among more than 150 people in attendance were State Sen. Gerald A. Neal, Frankfort City Manager Tim Zisoff and City Commissioner Tommy Haynes. Neal is a graduate of KSU.


Artist Synthia Saint James’ commemorative painting pays tribute to KSU’s 130th anniversary.

Frankfort Mayor William May, a 1986 KSU graduate, used the ceremony to make a plea that the arts are an essential part of education at every level.

“The important part of today is to not only honor the university but to see this wonderful work of art,” May said. “I tell everyone to please tell your school board members, city council members, state legislators, please don’t cut the arts. Students who are involved in arts are not able to participate in athletics in some cases. The arts are what makes them tick.”

Neal said KSU provided “a solid foundation” that prepared him for the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

“When I looked around the room at the University of Louisville, I never felt intimidated by the individuals who came from other schools because of what I learned at Kentucky State, Neal said. “I was well prepared.”

Saint James visited Frankfort earlier this year to learn about the University’s history. She said it was “a delight to capture elements and highlights of Kentucky State University.”

KSU President Raymond M. Burse said the piece that Saint James produced was “outstanding” and a testament to the time she spent meeting with alumni, researching the archives and talking with faculty and students.

“It has been a pleasure in every regard that you can think in terms of working with her,” Burse said. “She wanted to know the essence of what Kentucky State is all about – what does it mean and where it is heading.”

The artist’s exclusive prints were available for purchase at the unveiling. In addition, the eye-catching prints will be available Thursday, May 19 during a public viewing at 10:30 a.m. in the State Capitol Rotunda and at 6 p.m. in the Paul Sawyier Library, 319 Wapping St.

Saint James is most celebrated for designing the first Kwanzaa Stamp for the United States Postal Service in 1997, and creating the cover art for Terry McMillan’s book, Waiting to Exhale. For more than two decades, her artwork has been featured in several United States Embassies through the Art in Embassies Program.


Kentucky State University was chartered in May 1886 as a land grant institution. Located in Frankfort, Kentucky, KSU offers associate (two-year) degrees in three disciplines, baccalaureate (four-year) degrees in 24 disciplines, and master’s degrees in five disciplines. KSU has 129 full-time instructional faculty members and more than 1,700 students. Learn more at For continuous news and updates, follow KSU on Twitter at @KyStateU.