JOHN MCCRADY (1911-1968) The Golden Rule, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 18.25" x 23.25"
Painter John McCrady was born in the rectory Grace Episcopal Church in Canton, MS, on 9/11/1911, He grew up in Oxford, MS, where his father Rev. Edward McCrady led St. Peter's Episcopal Church and served as head of the philosophy department at Ole Miss. He graduated from high school and attended Ole Miss, where his artistic talents were evidenced in yearbook illustrations. After his sophomore year, he won a scholarship to the prestigious Art Students League in New York, where he studied with such "American Scene" painters as Thomas Hart Benton. However, uninspired by the urban surroundings, he realized that his inspiration lay in Oxford and the surrounding Lafayette County hills and returned to the South. He had his first one-man show in Philadelphia in 1936, and another solo exhibition in New York the following year. These shows brought him recognition in Newsweek, Time, Life, and the New Republic.
In 1939, McCrady received a Guggenheim fellowship to document black cultural and religious life in the South. As abstract art gained popularity, McCrady's simple, regional style became critically less favored, and after a New York exhibit in 1946, the American Communist Party's Daily Worker called the show a "flagrant example of racial chauvinism." The criticism deeply impacted McCrady, and he stopped painting until the National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him a 1949 grant in recognition of his "warm poetic vision of life in the South."
For the next two decades, McCrady focused on teaching at the John McCrady Art School in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which remained in operation until 1983. He also continued to paint scenes of his beloved Oxford and Lafayette County. Not surprisingly given his upbringing, these very often featured religious or spiritual themes. Of the above painting, not-so-subtly titled The Golden Rule, McCrady said the following:
These gentlemen and ladies who stand on Oxford Square are, nearly all I'm sure, subscribers to the Oxford Eagle. Saturday is a favorite day to gather and discuss many subjects and to collect opinions. Of what they talk is somewhat reflected in the Eagle, where letters are published from unsophisticated correspondents who represent the people throughout the surrounding hills...These letters are of news and obituaries, written by people who are quite philosophical and abundantly endowed with compassion. One is Elmer Higginbotham of Higginbothamville, who always starts his column with a big "Hello to all you good friends and readers out there." About the Fourth (of July) he says, "I remember when folks used to hitch up their horses to a farm wagon and drive for miles to some old picnic ground...There were 'great orators' who would let us know about what's happening in Washington" about the change of time and ways.... About his heritage, he went on to say, "I rejoice to know I have lived in such a wonderful time when people and their neighbors had respect for each other and were not in a hurry and had time to stop and talk with one another."
Keep in mind, this was painted in 1964, two years after James Meredith became the first African-American student to enroll at Ole Miss. Even then there were forces of good at work among the "everyday folk" here in Mississippi. I've been told that certain attitudes and beliefs are generational and that only the slow passage of time will lead to meaningful change. I refuse to believe that we, you and I, cannot engage in the types of discussions that catalyze progress. It starts by looking within. What are my prejudices and biases? What am I doing to change them?