A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16, at St. Mark’s Methodist Church for Ernest G. Welch, accomplished photographer and businessman after whom the Georgia State University School of Art and Design is named. Welch, who died at 103 on Dec. 26, was a 1999 graduate of the school.

A generous gift made by the estates of Welch and his late sister Frances will provide vital support to the school, its students and programs.

“Ernest was an incredibly kind and generous man,” says Nancy Peterman, vice president for development at Georgia State. “We are truly grateful for his bequest, which will benefit future generations of art students here for many years to come.”

A long-time resident of Atlanta, Welch earned a business degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1928. He went on to serve in counterintelligence during World War II and landed in Normandy at Omaha Beach 10 days after the invasion. He was stationed in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, where he took photographs of the war effort.

Welch’s deep interest in photography eventually took him across the globe—from capturing images of wildlife in Africa to studying under the renowned photographer Ansel Adams. Welch’s specialty was platinum palladium prints—a process also used by pioneering photographers Irving Penn, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston among others.

After a decades-long career as a manager for Sonoco Products Company, Ernest Welch formalized his study of photography by enrolling in Georgia State’s art school in his late 80s; he earned a bachelor of fine arts in photography from the university in 1999.

During fall semester 2002, Welch enrolled in introductory painting and drawing classes in order to continuously improve his photography skills. He continued his self-education when he took up digital photography at 102. Welch’s work has appeared at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and Arts for All Gallery in Atlanta as well as the gallery at Georgia State.

Welch became a generous benefactor to the GSU art school, and it was named in honor of his generosity and passion in 2003.

“Ernest approached his studies at GSU with total seriousness and dedication. He was always the first to show up for class, well prepared and intensely focused,” says Ralph Gilbert, associate dean for fine arts in Georgia State’s College of Arts and Sciences. “He was entirely comfortable with his fellow students, who were on occasion kids with purple hair and piercings. But Ernest treated everyone with respect and consideration and was in turn treated with great esteem. (Read Dean Gilbert’s memorial to Ernest Welch.)

“To both his teachers and his fellow students, Ernest was the greatest possible example of life-long learning, and he set a standard for curiosity, self-expression and a desire for growth that we will never forget.”

A native of Lafayette, Ala., Welch was the son of the late Dr. Ernest Braxton Welch and Scenus Lucinda Peavy and was predeceased by Frances and two other siblings, Margaret and James Welch, all of Atlanta. Surviving relatives include cousins Clara Welch Howell and Merrilyn Welch Eastham of Marietta and Mary Emma McConaughey of Druid Hills in Atlanta.

According to his obituary, Welch will be remembered for his “commanding presence, his strong sense of humor, his keen interest in people, his love of France, his passion for photography and his dedication to the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design.”

For more information on the school, visit http://www.gsu.edu/art.

The Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design offers Georgia State University students well-rounded and challenging educational experiences in the visual arts. Under the direction of accomplished artists and scholars, students may pursue graduate or undergraduate studies in nine disciplines: art education, art history; ceramics; drawing, painting and printmaking; graphic design; interior design; photography; textiles; and sculpture.