Born in Canton, Mississippi in September of 1911, John McCrady’s upbringing in the southern United States would serve as a backdrop and inspiration for the majority of his four decade long career. After studying art for only a year at the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans School of Art, John McCrady received a scholarship to study at the Art Students League in New York. While there he studied under both Thomas Hart Benton and Kenneth Hays Miller, whose influence greatly affected McCrady’s style in regionalist subject matter and medium. (Thomas Hart Benton influenced smooth, strong subjects, and Miller’s method influenced an oil transparency painting over tempera base technique in McCrady’s work.)
As his time at the Art Students league came to a close, John McCrady returned to New Orleans where he taught at the arts and crafts club school while still creating new works. In 1935, John McCrady was included in a show focusing on Deep South artists (Thirty-Five Painters of the Deep South) at Boyer Galleries in Philadelphia. After being so well recieived in this show, McCrady was given a one-man show a few years later at Boyer Galleries in New York. One of his most well-known works, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from 1937 was also included in this show. In the lithograph edition, as well as the painting, we see a traditional, rural scene being interwoven with religious and southern themes. As mourners congregate around a dying family member, a heavenly chariot descends upon the humble cabin to usher the soul to heaven and prevent demon-like figures from getting to close. The story leading up to this apex moment is also shown through the presence of hastily-made sporatic tire tracks, telling the frantic story of the characters in this powerful image.
As a result of the one-man show, John McCrady recieced rave reviews and write ups in Time, Life, and Newsweek magazines. Being hailed as “a star risen from the bayous”. In 1942 McCrady founded the John McCrady School of Art which went on to thrive in New Orlean’s French Quarter for over 30 years and create a well established legacy for the art and style of John McCrady.