About the Artist, Reverend James McClarey
In 1952, Blackburn College senior James McClarey ’53AA embarked on a journey through the college’s history for his senior art project. After spending a semester researching Blackburn’s history, McClarey, with assistance from William Oberbeck ’53, painted the History of Blackburn. The mural details the college’s history from its beginnings through the quickly changing 1950s.
An art major, while at Blackburn he was president of the art club, student newspaper cartoonist, and worked in a variety of Work Program positions. After graduation, earned his B.S. from Illinois Wesleyan University and Bachelor of Divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary. Rev. McClarey worked as a minister for the United Methodist Church from 1962 until his retirement.
(click on the image for enlarged view)
- Blackburn College Founder and Namesake, Reverend Gideon Blackburn. Founded as Blackburn Theological Seminary in 1837, Rev. Blackburn acquired the 80 acres of land on which the college still stands today from the City of Carlinville. Blackburn Theological Seminary opened its doors in 1859 and was named in Rev. Blackburn’s honor. The original deed can be found on the wall of the President’s Office.
- The Ideal Blackburn Student. This figure portrays Rev. Blackburn’s ideal Blackburn student— intelligent, forward-thinking, and forward–looking. This artist’s rendition of the ideal student and the Blackburn experience is reflective of the times. Current Blackburn students bring a wealth of diversity in race, religion, culture, and creed.
- Robertson Hall. This portrayal of Robertson Hall, with an open door, signifies a welcome to Blackburn College. Built in 1880, Robertson Hall was named after William A. Robertson, a generous friend of the college. Then one of two primary academic buildings on campus, Robertson burned on November 10, 1959. Ludlum Hall was built on the spot where Robertson once stood. A cornerstone to the building can be found outside of Ludlum.
- New Construction. These men driving stakes into the ground represent the college’s Work Program and New Construction. Since the founding of the Work Program in 1913, Blackburn students have assisted in the construction of 10 campus buildings. Student dedication to the forward momentum of the college, both physically and figuratively, has shaped Blackburn College for more than a century.
- The Classroom. This scene represents the importance of learning, the hands-on academic experiences, and the close-knit student and faculty relationships found at Blackburn College. More than 60 years after this mural’s creation, participating in the arts, sciences, and humanities are still a part of the liberal arts experience that all students take part in during their years at Blackburn.
- Athletics. Blackburn has a long and proud history of athletic distinction. The college’s first athletic contest was a baseball game played against Illinois College on March 29, 1882. Blackburn students, so dedicated to athletics, built the college’s first campus gymnasium with their own hands in 1930. It was used until the completion of Dawes Gymnasium in 1938. In the decades since, the college has seen national titles, conference championships, excellence among individual players, and a commitment to teamwork that defines the Blackburn spirit. The one-armed baseball player portrayed, although often incorrectly thought to be the famed Pete Gray, is Robert Allison a Blackburn student in the early 1900s, who had lost his left arm in a coal mining accident in Pennsylvania.
- Planning for the Future. The 1950s were a time of great change for the nation and Blackburn College. This group of men, crowded around a table, represent the planning of the college’s future.
- Clegg Chapel. Going back to Blackburn’s religious roots, Clegg Chapel towers over the mural’s other scenes. Completed in 1932 and located on the west side of Hudson Hall, Clegg Chapel was given as a memorial to Sherman K. Clegg by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sherman D. Clegg. Weekly, or even daily, chapel services were once mandatory. Now, reminders of Blackburn’s Presbyterian roots can be found in the school’s on-going chaplaincy services and during ceremonial college events, in which Rev. Blackburn’s Bible is still used.
- Pullman Car. In 1916, brick and mortar were not the only materials providing a roof over students’ heads. Due to the need for more space quickly, in 1916 the college brought in Pullman train cars to serve as additional classrooms and housing. An advertisement from May 22, 1920, featuring a group of smiling young women posing on the Pullman, says, “We girls have the best time imaginable and the cars are so comfortable, with hot water heat, hot and cold running water, electric lights, and plenty of light and fresh air.” After Old Main burned the night of August 22, 1927, the cars were once again used for housing, the library, classrooms, and administrative offices. In 1939, no longer in need of the additional space, the Blackburn Pullmans intentionally were burned.
- Mary Hunter Austin. One of Blackburn’s most notable graduates, Mary Hunter Austin sits against a tree, a homage to her dedication to early environmental and conservation efforts. A native of Carlinville and an 1888 graduate, she is best known for her nature writings about the American Southwest. Austin was a contemporary of famed nature photographer Ansel Adams, co-authoring Taos Pueblo with Adams in 1929. A bust of her stands in the Marvin and Ingrid Mahan Science Laboratory Wing, honoring her contributions.
- The Farm. Located on the north east corner of campus, where the Mahan Science Wing now stands, Blackburn’s farm was in operation from the early 1900s until the late 1940s, when the college’s agricultural program was discontinued. The Blackburn farm produced food for the campus through crops and livestock, and offered Work Program positions to both men and women. The first college barn was built in 1913 and a second built in 1935. Depicted in the mural directly behind the young men pitching hay, the barn burned to the ground on January 11, 1943. Photos of the barn in flames can be found in the Blackburn archives.
- The Work Program. Founded in 1913 by President Dr. William Hudson as the Student Self-Help Plan, the Work Program forever changed Blackburn College. For more than 100 years, the Work Program has shaped the lives of thousands of students. Student labor has contributed to the construction of almost every campus building, 10 of which still stand today; stoked coal fires and shoveled snowy walks; assisted in the tutoring and education of fellow students; served meals and baked pies for the campus community, and more. Although work positions shift and change as years and technology progress, all student work at Blackburn College remains integral to the daily functions and success of the institution.
- Rejuvenation. The 1950s began a time of great rejuvenation on the Blackburn campus. These young men, wielding hammers and building brick walls, represent the changes seen throughout campus during those years. Since this mural’s completion in 1953, 15 campus facilities have been built, 10 of which used student labor.
- Dr. and Mother Hudson. Unquestionably Blackburn’s greatest president, there is no doubt that without Dr. William Hudson the college would not be here today. A graduate of Princeton University, Dr. Hudson came to Blackburn in 1911 as its 12th president. Under Hudson’s tutelage, the college, once on the brink of financial ruin, flourished with the implementation of the Student Self-Help Plan and Hudson’s skill at fundraising (or as has been said, his reputation as the “world’s greatest beggar”). With his wife, Florence (known adoringly as Mother Hudson by students), Dr. Hudson remained President of Blackburn for 33 years, retiring in 1945.
- Hudson Hall. Completed in 1932, Hudson Hall is named in recognition of Dr. Hudson. In the mural, Dr. and Mother Hudson are seen standing in front of Blackburn’s most iconic building which still bears their name, and shaking the hands of students as they embark on life after Blackburn.