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 Henry Jay MacMillan  (1908 - 1991)

About: Henry Jay MacMillan
 

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Lived/Active: North Carolina      Known for: floral still-life, portrait, illustrator

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Henry Jay MacMillan
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is courtesy of Lake High:

Henry Jay MacMillan
(1908 1991)
Henry Jay MacMillan was born in Wilmington, NC in 1908 and despite his extensive travels to Europe and his work in New York and Washington, D.C. he died there in 1991. In 1956 after a career in teaching art and interior design, Henry MacMillan returned to his native Wilmington, NC and lived in the family home that his grandfather had built in 1889. It was in that very house that his grandmother, Jane Williams, first introduced him to fine art.

His grandmother, who had studied botany, wood carving and china-painting, combined both botany and painting into designs of North Carolina wild flowers painted on plates which she fired in her own kiln. Her love of art was passed on to her two children, one of whom became Jane MacMillan, the mother of Henry. And Jane MacMillan passed her love of art on to her two children, Helen MacMillan Lane and Henry Jay MacMillan both of whom became professional artists.

In the early 1920s Elisabeth Chant, artist and teacher, moved her studio into the old Hart Winery building which was across the street from the MacMillan's home. One of Miss Chant's aims was to found an art colony and the influence she had on Henry MacMillan, who started studies under her direction at the young age of 13, was profound.

At the age of 18 MacMillan attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (now the Pearson's School of Design). For the next three years he studied architecture and interior design both in New York and in the Paris branch of that school. He graduated from the Paris branch in 1929. For the next seven years he worked as an interior designer for architects and decorators in Washington and New York, all the while keeping an interest in fine art. Plus, he studied at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Woodstock School in Woodstock, New York.

He also studied under Kuniyoshi (whose influence can be seen in his delicate flower paintings), Bridgeman, A. Woelfle and J. Smith. Given his strong background in varied painting techniques, Henry MacMillan has produced major works in watercolor, tempera and oil glazes.

His work was exhibited at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and he had his first one-man show at Gallery 10 in New York two years later. The art critics in New York were favorable and the exposure gained him a commission from the Sperry Corporation to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center.

MacMillan was inducted into the United States Army in August 1942. In 1943, he was sent to North Africa and then to Sicily. After the Normandy landing in 1944 he was called on to paint the hedgerows being used by the Germans as natural defenses. It seemed as if the photographs taken of them failed to tell the whole story and artistic renderings actually served the army better. Colonel Thomas Crystal, recognizing MacMillan's talent, assigned him a jeep and a driver and detached him from service status so that he could paint military activities for the remainder of the war.

MacMillan followed the movement of the 19th Corps Headquarters and recorded its progress through France, Belgium, and Holland and back into Germany, finally stopping at the town of Barby in April of 1945. Even though it was commonplace for such paintings to become the property of the Army, MacMillan was allowed to keep them and return home with all of his military paintings. In 1973 he donated an extensive collection of war scenes done in watercolor and pen and ink from the European theater to the Cape Fear Museum. Asked why all the pictures of war scenes he answered, "Why did I paint all these pictures of the European front during World War Two? Because I am an artist, and artists paint what they see."

But Henry MacMillan was more than an artist; he was also a teacher and a promoter of art and history. After the war he studied at the Art Student's League in New York and for 10 years after World War Two he was an instructor of painting and drawing at his old alma mater, Parson's School of Design in New York.

Before the war in 1938 he had campaigned to have the Works Projects Administration in Washington build an art museum in Wilmington, North Carolina. When it opened in November of 1939 he was named head of the art school of the Museum. His artist mother, Jane MacMillan, who had encouraged him and lent him lifelong support, became the first President of the Museum. Henry MacMillan himself later joined the Board of Directors of the St. Johns Museum of Art and, in keeping with his historical interest he also became president of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

While in North Carolina Henry MacMillan worked as a portraitist as well as a painter of landscapes and the still lifes so beloved by Southerners.

MacMillan has had his work exhibited at group shows throughout the nation with one-man shows being held at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, at Duke University, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and at the St. John's Museum of Art, which held retrospectives of his work in both 1970 and 1975.

MacMillan is listed in Davenports and Fieldings. His work is in the permanent collection of the Cape Fear Museum and the Louise Wells Cameron Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina.


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