Dawson Gallery


James McLean was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina, into the large family of a stone- cutter.  He began drawing at an early age but had no opportunity to pursue a career in art until after his father’s death, when he answered a magazine ad placed by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. 


In April 1923, he began five years of classes at the Academy’s summer school at Chester Springs. During that time he studied in Philadelphia under Daniel Garber, Charles Garner, and Joseph Pearson. Winning the Cresson Traveling Scholarship in 1926 allowed for the summer in Italy, Paris, Germany, and the Netherlands.  McLean admired Garber and the Pennsylvania landscape artists whose impressionism was founded on draftsmanship and strong compositions.


In 1929, McLean was drawn back to North Carolina, where he set up and taught single handedly The Southern School of Creative Arts in Raleigh.  The Depression caused most of the students to drop out but McLean remained and married the young dance teacher in 1930.


In the mid-1930s, McLean joined the Federal Arts Project (FAP) painting murals in different parts of the state and teaching classes to the general public.  In addition to this work, McLean supervised the programs for the Art Center in Raleigh, which opened in 1936.   McLean’s work has received no scholarly attention, although it is known that he was active from the 1930s to the 1950s, and that he painted a variety of subjects.  McLean used impressionism and more avant-garde methods in his work, experimenting with techniques of decorative patterning while maintaining realism.  There were several local exhibitions honoring his work a few years before he died in Raleigh in 1989.


Source:Falk, Peter Hastings, Who Was Who in American Art

Charleston Renaissance Gallery

James Augustus McLean

American, 1904-1989

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