James C. McMillan
Artist & Sculptor
James C. McMillan was born in Sanford, North Carolina on December 23, 1925. McMillan was one of three children of Sadie and Rev. Dr. James Ernest McMillan. Both parents were educators in the public school system, with his father also serving as the minister of the St. James Presbyterian Church.
In 1941, at the age of fifteen, young James McMillan graduated valedictorian from his high school and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University. He studied under such artists as painter Lois Mailou Jones, James Lesesne Wells, James A. Porter and James V. Herring. McMillan served in the United States Navy during World War II from 1943-46. He returned to Howard for a final year and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947. In the summer of 1947, he received a nine-week art fellow- ship to the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. He was also the first African-American to be admitted to that program.
In the fall of 1947, McMillan became the Chair of the Art Department at Bennett College; he would complete the first of three tenures at Bennett. Despite a busy teaching and administrative schedule, McMillan continued to produce paintings and pursue artistic study on the side. In 1950, he took a sabbatical from Bennett College to study at the Académie Julian in Paris, France. As one of about twenty-five international, advanced-level students, McMillan was most productive and completed several pieces. He did a second tenure at Bennett for the period of one year and then moved to Washington, D.C. While in Washington, D.C., McMillan attended Catholic University, where he pur- sued his MFA in Sculpture (completed in 1952). In addition, he worked as a commercial artist in Washington D.C. from 1952 to 1953 and made a short-lived attempt at being a gallery owner when he and another artist opened Ger-Mac Art Studio between 1954 and 1955.
McMillan returned to Greensboro in 1956 to resume teaching at Bennett College. Soon after, he was awarded a Danforth Teacher Fellowship Grant whereby he was able to pursue summer doctorial study at Syracuse University. McMillan’s return also coincided with some major strides in the Civil Rights Movement. He participated in the Sit-In Movement, and was involved with several non-violent student demonstrations with students from Bennett College and North Carolina A&T. In 1969, he accepted a post as a Professor and Chair of the Art Department at nearby Guilford College. McMillan was the first African-American chair of the Art Department there. He retired in 1988.
James McMillan has continued to work and involve himself in the arts. He was one of the original co-founders and first president of the African American Atelier, which originally opened in 1991. His work can be found at Bennett College, North Carolina Central University, Guilford College, The Weatherspoon Art Museum and Virginia State University. McMillan has also won several teaching awards and appeared in several publications, including Who’s Who in Black America and Art in North Carolina-1972.
© 2006 Professor Shawnya L. Harris, Greensboro, North Carolina. Reprinted with permission.
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