Such was my brush with presidential fame, and my brush, no pun intended, with the Memphis Academy of Arts, which never figured into my life during my residence in Memphis. (It did later, however; I’ll explain at the end.) And why should it have? I was no artist, and I knew hardly anybody who was an artist. To the extent that I thought of the college at all, I thought it was odd that it should be in such a place as Memphis, which, despite its two art galleries, I never regarded as a center of high culture.
|Rust Hall, Memphis College of Art|
The answer is . . . well, you must be able to guess what the answer is. Dr. Cupples lists the numerous art programs and institutions that existed in the city around the time of Dr. King’s assassination: there was the Brooks Gallery; there was the New York Metropolitan Opera, which made yearly visits to the Bluff City (Memphis was one of only six cities in the hinterland so honored); there were the music and theater departments at Memphis State University, departments that had produced no fewer than three divas and were the first to stage an off-Broadway production of the Broadway sensation Hair; there was the Memphis Symphony Orchestra; there was the novelist-turned-historian Shelby Foote, who was writing his brilliant Civil War trilogy in the study of his Memphis home; and there was of course the Memphis Academy of Arts.
The Memphis Academy of Arts began in 1936 with a defection from an already existing art school in Memphis, the James Lee Memorial Academy, which was located in two houses on the block of Adams Avenue preserved today as Victorian Village. The James Lee Memorial Academy was overseen by one Florence Makin McIntyre—more on her in a few moments—and offered classes in all of the traditional fine arts as well as providing performance space for three theaters.
But not all was well at the Lee Academy, as some instructors found the “rigid classicism” of Ms. McIntyre, who had studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, too intolerable. Two in particular—a popular husband-and-wife team named George and Harriet Oberteuffer—left the academy, bringing several students with them, and started the Mid-South School of Fine Arts. When the older Lee Academy shut its doors in the early 1940s, its buildings, which several years before had been deeded to the city, were offered by the mayor to the rebellious Mid-South School, which by then had changed its name to the Memphis Academy of Arts.
Memphis was home to several women who played active roles in the arts, either as artists or as founders and administrators of art academies. Most significant was Florence Makin McIntyre (1875–1963), whom we’ve already met as the force behind the James Lee Memorial Academy and who, in Dr. Cupples’s estimation, was “the foundation of the city’s great leap forward” in the realm of the arts. After studying art in Chicago and living for a few years in Philadelphia, Ms. McIntyre returned to her native city to help establish, in 1914, the Memphis Art Association of the Nineteenth Century Club. Two years later, she became the first director of the new Brooks Gallery.
There are several other persons and academies that figure into the history of art education in Memphis--most notably the late Ted Rust, who directed the Memphis Academy of Arts for twenty-six years--but I’ll leave the reader to learn about those himself by reading Dr. Cupples’s article, which presents a side of Memphis that was unknown to me before and that I am grateful for knowing now.
|1969 Poplar Avenue|