A History of the Art Department
Ratliff Hall’s spacious basement served as the birthplace of the Mississippi College Art Department in the 1950s.
The Art Department’s initial home made perfect sense given the austere budget at the time for the small Baptist college in Clinton. Constructed in 1913, Ratliff Hall played a vital role as an MC dormitory for decades; but it also became the campus residence of a couple of young dorm “parents,” Sam Gore and his wife, Margie.
Following graduation from the Atlanta College of Art, and completion of his bachelor’s degree at Mississippi College in 1952, Sam and Margie Gore, the school nurse, served as resident counselors at Ratliff Hall. The Gores lived in the dorm for five years. A year earlier, in 1951, Sam Gore became MC’s first full-time art instructor when academic dean Dr. Howard Spell hired him.
The son of a Baptist preacher, Sam soon began his own “ministry” of teaching art classes in the dormitory’s ground floor. He taught classes in a large room which once functioned as a school cafeteria many years ago.
Lighting in Ratliff’s art classrooms was inadequate for the students, to say the least. Meanwhile, MC President D.M. Nelson operated a pretty lean campus budget. There was simply no money to pay for better lighting.
MC’s only art professor, Samuel Marshall Gore, didn’t let MC’s austerity stand in his way. He got creative, and transformed an obstacle into an opportunity.
“It necessitated my venturing into the business community of Jackson to equip the room with adequate light,” Dr. Gore recalled. Very early on, this Christian man of faith learned the meaning of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive.”
He approached the family of Stuart Irby, who operated a growing lighting business in Jackson. And the one-man MC Art Department made a pretty convincing case regarding MC’s needs. He was able to secure sufficient lighting for the MC art program at a rock bottom price- it didn’t cost the college a dime!
The Irby family’s generosity and friendship with Dr. Gore lasted for decades to come. The free gift from the Irby company and Sam Gore’s determination to make things work for the Art Department in Ratliff Hall really impressed President Nelson.
Built during the administration of President Provine, Ratliff Hall was named for Captain W.T. Ratliff, the chairman of the MC Board of Trustees. With World War II veterans returning to MC, and enrollment booming, Ratliff was remodeled. In 1954, new wings were added to double its capacity.
While serving as the first headquarters for art classes, with Gore teaching talented students like Kenneth Quinn (he later became an award-winning MC instructor), Ratliff wasn’t going to be the permanent home of a growing Art Department.
Sam Gore had big dreams for a new & improved Art Department. He began crafting a Fine Arts Building concept in the early 1950s. A photo of President Nelson standing next to Gore’s design appears in the 1953 Tribesman, the MC yearbook. The good news is that Sam Gore’s design eventually led to the creation of the new Aven Fine Arts Building on the corner of Jefferson & College Streets.
There were some funding issues that held up its construction.
By the time that President Nelson retired in 1957, and Dr. McLemore succeeded him, construction of the Aven Fine Arts Building as well as the Leland Speed Library next-door along College Street ceased due to money shortages. Not until 1959 were the two buildings completed.
Today, four-story Aven Hall today remains home of the bulk of the MC Art Department with studios and classes on courses from graphic design to art education and sculpting.
There are some exceptions: MC Art Department graduate student studios and classes are located on the East Campus, site of the former Clinton Junior High.
Blending in nicely is an interesting and appropriate twist of Art Department history. The old college infirmary (Farr Hall) now serves as the headquarters of the Christian university’s interior design program. It’s located in the same building where the late Margie Gore, the love of Dr. Gore’s life, faithfully served students as the school nurse, while a new Art Department began to take shape over six decades ago.