ALAMOSA – An Adams State University mathematics and computer science major Morris Sowards ‘19 applied logic and imagination to paint a portrait of Paul Erdős, Hungarian mathematician 1913-1996, which he then donated to the Chemistry, Mathematics, and Computer Science Department.
Dr. Christy Miller, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Computer Science chair said: “We are happy to accept this beautiful gift to the department.”
It all began when, in a linear algebra class, Dr. Stephen Aldrich repeated the quote “Mathematicians are devices for turning coffee into theorems.” The statement intrigued Morris. “Upon searching for the answer on who initially said the quote, I noticed a large flaw,” Sowards said. “Paul Erdős was often wrongfully accredited for the quote. It was really Alfréd Rényi, a colleague of Erdős.”
This information brewed an idea to promote academic integrity and paint a famous mathematician using coffee grounds. At first, Morris thought he would make Rényi the subject, since he actually said the quote, but upon further contemplation decided to paint Erdős, “a more fascinating individual to study because of his erratic behavior. I like to paint personalities and his was so much more interesting.”
Morris also hopes the 4’ x 3’ artwork will encourage students and faculty to strive for accuracy. “I want to remind the people of academia to always show skepticism in citing their sources.”
Although Erdős did not originate the quote, he was a big coffee drinker and Morris spent hours preparing grounds to use as the medium for his portrait. Starting with a gallon of coffee grounds and grinding them to a fine powder Morris then mixed in seven gallons of water, which he boiled down to about three gallons. “I filtered it one ladle at a time.” Then more boiling, until six ounces remained of a creamy tar of burnt coffee. “I believe any time my supportive mother sees me making the paint, she secretly weeps. It stinks up our house for weeks. I believe the smell is intoxicating.”
Sowards mixed his coffee pigment with an acrylic medium, as a binder, and a little glue. “I would love to say it is a durable as paint. After all, I worked hard to perfect the process. Unfortunately, I have no idea. I could see it lasting a century or more.” The painting was sealed with an acrylic medium and coated with ultraviolet-resistant varnish.
Aldrich, professor of mathematics, is flattered to be involved in the motivation for the portrait. “A quote I mentioned in class inspired a wonderful work of art. Morris is very inquisitive and the type of student who will research a casual remark and discover additional facts.”
Morris’ appreciation for the mathematics/computer science faculty inspired him to hang the art in Porter Hall. “I told myself I would leave my mark on this school. I was unsure how that process would go about. After I painted this painting, I knew it only had one home, and that is in the location I have received the most support in my academic endeavors.”
Adams State President Beverlee McClure admires Sowards’ talent and his use of coffee as the medium. “Students at Adams State have the ability to pursue artistic talents while earning a degree in one of the sciences. They are supported by faculty and staff to reach their full potential in all areas of interest. I believe Morris’ art will inspire future students as it remains on display in Porter Hall.”
Sowards credits Adams State for enriching his academic career. He enrolled with the idea of earning an associate’s degree in pre-engineering. “The amazing professors in the computer science department changed my major and, along with the art department, helped me discover my talents. I can really call this home.”