James Meade, a professor of drawing and painting at The University of Southern Mississippi, celebrates his 50th year teaching as well as his 44th year at Southern Miss.
Meade was born in western Virginia in the small miner’s town of Coeburn, the grandson of coal miners who never dreamed of teaching at a university. He was an active child who enjoyed hunting, fishing and playing football. Meanwhile, he also began to show artistic tendencies.
“When I was a kid, I always drew and painted and made little sculptures,” Meade said. “I didn’t have a chance to study art in elementary or high school.”
Meade was the first of his family to graduate high school and, on the eve of signing with the Marine Corps, he decided to attend college.
“(It) took me a while to figure out the ropes, but I thrived in college,” he said. “I’ve stayed with it ever since.”
During a small stint at a state school, Meade took an art history course and rekindled his interest in art. After this discovery, he sought out a studio art department and received his bachelors and masters from East Tennessee State University. He then began to teach freshman drawing courses during his graduate career at ETSU.
“Whoever knew that someone who grew up in a coal field would be a university professor teaching art?” Meade said.
After his time at ETSU, he taught at the University of Georgia, where he received his Masters of Fine Arts degree.
Meade also has significant ties to Italy, where he formed a school in 1970 that still exists today. He has been to Italy over 18 times, some solo trips but also many with Southern Miss students.
“I’ve been strongly influenced by the Italian Renaissance painters,” Meade said. “As well as the Spaniard Francisco Goya, French artist Honoré Daumier and Rembrandt.”
He has also taught abroad, spending two and a half years in Korea studying with a Korean artist, as well as teaching in Korea and China.
As a USM professor, Meade now teaches freshman drawing, freshman two-dimensional, figure drawing, beginning painting and advanced painting.
“I’m a producing artist, I make drawings,” Meade said. “I’ve had about 132 shows of my work. I’ve exhibited at USM, in Laurel, in Jackson, regionally and nationally. I’ve also participated in 17 international shows.”
Meade said university work allows him to develop his own skills and teaching style.
“My job allowed me to continue to grow and develop on my own,” he said. “I’ve spent the last 44 years developing, learning and growing with drawing and how to teach drawing.”
As much as he loves his art, he said that his favorite aspect of his time at Southern Miss has been his ability to help others.
“It gives me great pleasure to help these students get started. They have to finish on their own, but I help them get started,” he said. “I still keep in touch with the students that I taught in 1971.”
Some of Meade’s students are approaching their senior painting, drawing and sculpture showings after several years under his tutelage. George Brown, a senior painting major, said Meade was one of two teachers in his career at Southern Miss.
“It’s been a really long journey,” Brown said. “I’ve had him for four years, but I feel like it’s been really fun and really stressful, because art work can be stressful sometimes.“
Brown also talked the inspiration behind his painting work that will appear in the senior show.
“Mr. Meade showed me a painter named Pierre Bonnard, and I got really into him. He does these surreal landscapes,” Brown said.
According to the arts events website, along with Brown, senior artists Sophie Brenneman and Sarah Norman will also present their work beginning April 30 and running through May 8, with the reception occurring April 30 at 5 p.m.
Meade praised his students’ accomplishments and said what a pleasure it was to work with all of them over the years.
“In painting and drawing, the students are in that really want to be there,” he said. “No one is forcing them to draw and paint. They’re there because they enjoy it, and I enjoy working with them.”
In the future, Meade plans to keep teaching and producing while his health holds out and he is able to keep working. Looking back on his long career, he only had positive words for his experiences.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “I have no regrets.”