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About Mac McClain

Mac McClain (1923-2012) began his life in art in Paris, having known “the horrors of war,” and having received a discharge from the U.S. infantry at the end of World War II.  At the age of twenty-four, “feeling the happiness of a survivor," and being “an art student, free, loose and radical," he "fled to art and poetry," enthusiastically embracing both. 

Born in Los Angeles, Mac spent his early years in San Marino, CA. He remembered his childhood as one of climbing railroad trestles, having orange throwing fights and learning to read voraciously. Most of all he loved visiting his grandparents on their chicken ranch.

In May 1943, while studying at Pomona College, he and over forty other Pomona students enlisted together in WWII. He served in the 42nd Rainbow Division, where he received a Bronze Star and a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant for his bravery in battle on the front lines. Mac was profoundly affected by his war experience (The Battle of the Bulge and Liberation of Dachau) and turned to art and poetry in France as an antidote to those experiences.

He returned to North America in 1947 to study painting, first at the New School in New York, then at La Escuela de Pintura y Escultra de La Callejon Esmeralda in Mexico City. He moved to La Escuela de Pintura y Arte de Michoacan to begin working in ceramics, before returning to graduate from Pomona College in 1955.

In 1955 he joined the “Clay Revolution” with teacher Pete Voulkos and fellow students John Mason and Paul Soldner at the L.A. County Art Institute. One of Mac’s innovations was painting on sheets of cardboard with wet clay.  He later recalled that, in Voulkos' class, "there never was a wall or abyss between poetry, music, sculpture, clay, dance, writing, painting or play. It all became one." It was a lesson he would carry throughout his life.  


From 1959-1963 Mac lived in Tijuana and taught at the Art Center in La Jolla. He taught sculpture and drawing at Pomona College in 1964, before joining the Art Department at Cal State LA in 1965, where he inspired students for 23 years, serving as Department Chair during his last two years. A scholarship, “The Mac McClain Scholarship for Sculpture” was created at Cal State LA in his honor.

Mac’s early retirement was filled with hiking (three hours every morning in the San Gabriel Mountains), painting (five or six hours every afternoon) and poetry.   Using his pen-name, “Mac McCloud,” Mac wrote frequently on Southern Californian artists and exhibitions for magazines and exhibition catalogs. His articles and reviews appeared in the magazines American Craft, American Ceramics, Ceramics Monthly, and Visions, and he was a contributing editor for Artweek and Images and Issues.  He gave many poetry readings and published a chapbook of his poems "Some Kind of Happiness" in 1995.  Mac also wrote about art. Many essays appeared in Artweek starting in the 1970s and in various books, including Art at Scripps (1988) and Paul Soldner: A Retrospective (1991).

Mac also hiked regularly in the mountains near his home and was inspired by the landscapes of Southern California.  There is a hiking path in the Angeles National Forest, which he had helped clear and maintain, that was named in his honor: "The McCloud Trail."

Mac had numerous exhibitions in the LA area during the 1980s and 1990s. His work was most recently shown in the exhibits Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975 at AMOCA, San Diego’s Craft Revolution – From Post-War Modernism to California Design at the Mingei International Museum, and Contemporary Art Wins a Beachhead: The La Jolla School of Arts 1960-1964 at the Oceanside Museum of Art.

In an artist’s statement dated 1989, Mac writes about making work in his studio: “It is like staring intently at a sound.  Everything you see or think suggests something. To make it new! To recognize that you are the imprint of your own history… This is not the process of receiving, you are broadcasting. Your electric current travels all the way to Honshu, Bozeman or Mulberry Street. All tangled up in a discipline, a professional world, entwining cultural forces, you disentangle yourself and step carefully up to the unknown subject. You get down and personal.”

Mac passed away in May 2012.  Mac is missed dearly by his brothers and sisters-in-law Marvin and Patty McClain and Ken McCain and Doris McClain and their children and grandchildren, his former wife and friend, Mary Bardmess, his family with her, son Martin Baker and granddaughters Jessica and Lilly, his care-giver and friend, Joan Kay, as well as his many friends, colleagues and students.

Class of 1940
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