News Items from UNC Greensboro

Most everyone has a few mementos around the house. Marsha Thompson (Weatherspoon) has more than 3,000 – of one person.

Step inside her President Obama collectibles room – or as a sign announces, her “Obama-Rama Room.”

Obama bobbleheads. Obama watches. Obama dolls. A bed spread. Both of his books. “Just waiting to get them autographed.”

She first started paying attention to Barack Obama, she says, when he spoke at Rosa Parks’ funeral – she saw the newscasts. “I like the way he sounded and presented himself.” And Marsha Thompson, security guard at the Weatherspoon for nine years, has followed his career ever since.

Professors such as Dr. Heather Holian (Art) would speak with her about him.

Thompson toured the White House this Christmastime. She stayed and toured for 4.5 hours. “I wasn’t supposed to stay that long – but they let me.”

He inspires her. She’s inspiring too. Last year, she logged about 1,500 hours volunteering, largely door to door, getting people to register to vote. She says she and a friend registered more than 500 individuals over the past year alone.

The collection? It’s currently at about 3,000 items.

The six- foot President and First Lady cardboard cutouts? “I ordered them.”

A model of Air Force One. Coins bearing his likeness. “I ordered two bottles of Hennessy.” Obama pot-holders. A Chia Obama. Obama coffee mug. Another coffee mug – bearing his birth certificate.

“I have the tea glass he drank out of at Stephanie’s,” she says, referring to his 2008 dinner stop at the popular Randleman Avenue restaurant. “Want to see it?”

Obama comic books. Ten bags of magazines featuring Obama. Obama lamps.

“Just this week Dr. Holian gave me an Obama tree ornament.”

She’s a collector, as anyone at the Weatherspoon will tell you. For every exhibition over the past nine years, she has kept a notebook of clippings and artist autographs. It helps her remember the art and the artists, she says. “And I get to talk with them.”

Being a guard at the Weatherspoon has been a great joy, she says. Beforehand, she was a transfer clerk at Sandy Ridge Department of Correction, transferring prisoners.

For the past decade, she has been surrounded by art and artists and lovers of art. Opening this weekend is the exhibition “To What Purpose: Photography as Art and Document.” It features “Barack Obama,” by Dawoud Bey. It’s a large photographic portrait of then-Senator Obama.

Surely that’s one thing you can’t collect, right? Wrong.

“I have that picture.” She steps into the living room and there it is, prominently displayed. She spoke with the artist, visited his web site, and purchased it for her home.

But, for Thompson, it’s obviously about more than the physical items. She shed tears of joy when America’s first African-American president was sworn in. She was part of the Martin Luther King Foundation bus caravan – 15 buses from Greensboro alone, she says – going to the Inauguration.

“It was freezing. The wind was 20 miles per hour. He got up to speak – the wind ceased.” She describes that moment with one word: “happiness.”

By Mike Harris

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