Wednesday, June 16, 2010

John McCrady (1911 - 1968)

The Parade, 1950
Ogden Museum, Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

John McCrady was born in the rectory of Canton, Mississippi’s Grace Episcopal Church in 1911. His father was an Episcopal priest, and McCrady’s early life followed the itinerary of his father’s appointments to rural churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. His father finally settled into the positions of Rector and Philosophy professor in Oxford, Mississippi in 1928. After a brief adventure as a crewmember on a South American steamer, McCrady attended the University of Mississippi from 1930 to 1932. During the summers of 1931 and 1932, McCrady took courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and visited the museums of Philadelphia.

Portrait of a Negro, 1933
Ogden Museum, Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

In 1932, he entered classes at the New Orleans Art School, sponsored by the Arts and Crafts Club, and took an apartment at 627 Toulouse Street in the Vieux Carre. It was here that he painted Portrait of a Negro in 1933, and at the insistence of his fellow student and future wife, Mary Basso, he submitted the work to the annual competition sponsored by the Arts Students’ League in New York. The painting was successful, winning for him a one-year scholarship. At the League, he studied briefly with Thomas Hart Benton, and longer and with greater influence, Kenneth Hayes Miller.

Jugdement Day, 1938
Roger Houston Ogden Collection

During the mid-late 1930s, McCrady developed a personal style in keeping with the Regionalist movement of the depression era. Based on rural Southern life, particularly the religious and social life of African-Americans, McCrady’s work was well accepted in a time when American art looked away from European abstraction, and in the midst of great economic crisis, returned to pictorial traditions of this country. A 1937 painting, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, opened in New York to great critical acclaim, garnering positive reviews in Time magazine, Life, and The New Republic. Life then commissioned The Shooting of Huey Long in 1939, the same year that McCrady received a Guggenheim Fellowship “to paint the life and faith of the Southern Negro.” Between 1936 and 1939 McCrady was employed by the Federal Art Project, through which he executed several murals, including Oxford on the Hill, for Oxford, Mississippi, and Amory, Mississippi, 1888, installed in the post office of that town. In 1942, the Federal Arts Program becomes the Graphic Section of the War Services Office, and McCrady designed a series of propaganda posters to aid the war effort. In the same year, McCrady and his wife opened an art school on Bourbon Street, where he would continue to influence young Southern artists until his death in 1968.

Crucifixion, 1951
Collection of Grace Episcopal Church, New Orleans

Shortly after completing Steamboat ‘Round the Bend in 1946 for Delmonico’s Restaurant in New Orleans, a communist paper, The Daily Worker, denounced a recent exhibition of his work in New York as “a flagrant example of racial chauvinism.” McCrady was crushed by the criticism. He stopped painting for a short while, and when he resumed, his work was focused less on African-American scenes, and more on rural life in Mississippi, French Quarter life and Mardi Gras.

Eucharist Scene, John McCrady, 1954
Grace Episcopal Church, New Orleans

Grace Episcopal Church commissioned McCrady to design a mural of the Eucharist to be executed above the Altar in 1954. For two years, McCrady spent most of his time executing that work. He used his painting Crucifixion, 1951, as a template for style and palette. Parishioners were used as models for the disciples. The finished work remains at Grace Church, New Orleans. A second study, Ascension, was completed around the same time, but never executed in his lifetime. One of McCrady’s students, Alan Flattmann, was commissioned by Mary, McCrady’s widow, to execute the mural of Ascension in 1972 in Grace Church. Alan Flattmann also cleaned and restored the mural after the levee failures of 2005.

Ascension, 1974, Alan Flattmann after John McCrady drawing
Grace Episcopal Church, New Orleans

Currently, the Ogden is proud to exhibit the original John McCrady drawing for Ascension, as well as his 1951 painting, Crucifixion, which inspired the Altar mural at Grace Episcopal Church. Grace Episcopal Church is located at 3700 Canal Street. Please visit their website for a worship schedule.


mikec1040 said...

I stumbled upon these images and Mr. McCrady's bio on the net. Eerie and moving images--the skies he paints make me think of El Greco.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art said...

... or Thomas Hart Benton.

Jane from Indy said...

I saw McCrady's painting, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at the St. Louis Art Museum recently. The painting was so interesting and had such beautiful coloring. I want to learn more about this artist.

TeeJay said...

Do you know where the McCrady mural from Delmonico's is now? I know it was removed from the restaurant some time ago.

AllBahianGirl said...

I am from St.Louis and saw John McCrady's painting Swing Low Sweet Chariot in the St.Louis Art Museum in 1964 at the age of four years old and now 53 years later this painting still has ahold on me. Wonderful depiction of Black angels and rural Black Southern life. May Mr.McCrady RIP!