Sculptor Louise McCagg’s work combines originality and talent with hard physical labor. She is an artist who works primarily in metal. Her favorite mediums are aluminum, bronze and tombasil, a form of white bronze, but she also works in ceramics, latex and plastic. At one time her studio was a geodesic dome that stood in the middle of a field surrounded by drums, bricks, and assorted equipment. She presently lives in New York City.
An outstanding member of the class of 1955, McCagg studied art under Ruth Cheney, Head of the Art Department at Dana. Her enthusiasm, imagination, and artistic temperament led her to not only excel at art but also at English. Winifred Post, an English teacher at Dana from 1942 to 1976, remembered that, “Her artistic sensitivity allowed her to deal with feelings as competently as with ideas. Level headed, she was one of the moderating voices in the class, always finding sensible grounds for her opinions.” McCagg was the literary editor of Focus and a member of the art, French, riding, outing, photography, and glee clubs.
McCagg has many fond memories of her Dana years, her life as a boarder, the Bardwell Series, weekend trips to Boston and making friends with students from all over the world. She felt that Dana’s nurturing environment allowed her to pursue her passion for the arts. “Dana Hall was very kind to me and my interests in writing and art were recognized. Somewhere else it might have been overlooked.”
After graduating from Barnard College in 1959, McCagg studied printing and painting at the Art Students League in New York from 1959-63 and at Michigan State she received a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture in 1971. From 1966 to 1967, she lived in Communist Hungary, and her experiences and the friends she met there have been an inspiration for some of her art.
For her fall of 2004 exhibit, entitled Face Prints, at the A.I.R. Gallery in New York City, McCagg cast Postcards from Auschwitzin honor of the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian holocaust. These 4”x 6” bronze plaques have faces that appear as though they were pushing through the metal from the backside. They symbolize the disturbing actions the SS soldiers took to coerce the concentration camp prisoners to write happy messages on postcards to their families back home. The faces were made from life-size molds that McCagg made of her Hungarian friends. She reduced the faces to one inch in size so that they would fit on 4”x 6” postcard forms that were then cast in bronze. “These faces represent not just themselves: they are the epicenter of past as well as future generations.”
McCagg has contributed a lot to Dana. She was a trustee from 1978 to 1984 and a Corporator from 1985 to 1988. Her interests are in the arts, student financial aid, and faculty development. Her daughter Xanda graduated from Dana in 1978. In honor of Dana’s Centennial Celebration, McCagg donated her sculpture The Grandmother Steps that is located outside the Dining Center. McCagg states that, “For the 100th anniversary of a school for young women, it seemed right that a sculpture should recall our progenetrix: our caring grandmothers whose accomplishments are varied and whose hopes for us were so strong that they support us even today. There are other women, too, who encourage us; women of accomplishment who might be called our spiritual grandmothers…Each figure represents a field of endeavor: one the visual, the other the literary arts.”
Quotes from women working in the visual and literary arts are inscribed on the sculptures. McCagg felt that these particular quotes might “speak to us even without our knowing the work of the individual.” Georgia O’Keefe, Frieda Kahlo, and Louise Nevelson are a few of the women whose quotes represent the visual arts, while Ntozake Shange, Gloria Fuertes, and Maya Angelou are among those who represent the literary arts.
McCagg strongly believes in single sex education. She knows firsthand the benefits of an all-female environment. “Dana Hall is a great place for young women to go to school and get to know other women and begin life as strong individuals.”
McCagg’s sculptures can be found in prestigious public collections such as Lyman Allyn Museum of Art in New London, Connecticut, and the Wharton Center for Performing Arts in Michigan. In 2005, she was awarded the Dana Hall Distinguished Alumna Award.
Louise and her daughter Xanda will exhibit their work at the Dana Hall Art Gallery from April 3 to May 5, 2006. The reception will be held on Tuesday, April 4 from 5 to 6 p.m. Visit Louise McCagg’s website at http://www.louisemccagg.com/ to see examples and explanations of her varied art work.
Focus. Wellesley, MA: Dana Hall School, 1955.
“Louise Heublein McCagg ’55, P78.”Dana Hall Bulletin67.2 (Summer 2005): 14.
Louise McCagg, photograph. Louise McCagg Collection, New York.
McCagg, Louise. “The Grandmother Steps.” Wellesley, MA: Dana Hall Archives.
“Something Old…and Something New.” Dana Hall Bulletin 42.5 (June 1981): 6.
McCagg, Louise. Home page. 23 January 2006.
Woodward, Patricia E. “Shaping up: the sculpture of Louise McCagg.” Dana Hall Bulletin 40. 3 (April 1979): 4-5.
Originally published as Person of the Week, February 20, 2006