Ceramic works created by Lessie Peeler McCay, longtime Chattanooga resident and an active member of the Chattanooga art scene, are featured in the lobby cases of the Cress Gallery of Art in the UTC Fine Arts Center, corner of Vine and Palmetto Streets. The exhibition will run through Friday, May 23.
The objects on display were created by McCay between 1951 and 2000 and are from the personal collection of her family. The functional works include bottles, jars, pitchers, plates, bowls, and lidded tureens and casseroles. McCay’s interest in glaze experimentation is evident in the variety of surface treatments on the vessels and reflects a 20th century tradition in ceramic ware pioneered by Maija Grotell,(1899 – 1973) “the mother of American ceramics” and head of the ceramics department at Cranbook Academy in Michigan for 30 years, according to Ruth Grover, UTC Director and Curator of Galleries, Exhibitions, and Collections.
“Ceramicists like Grottel and McCay are part of the movement that changed attitudes about ceramics and its relationship to craft and fine arts,” Grover said.
Born Lessie Belle Peeler in Athens, Georgia, in 1910, McCay graduated from Athens High School and attended the University of Georgia majoring in home economics and ceramics. After graduation, McCay taught home economics at Madison County and Clarke County High Schools and later attended graduate school in home economics at Virginia Tech. She continued her study of ceramics at Arrowmont School in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and took additional courses at Ohio State University and Kansas State Teacher’s College at Emporia.
McCay taught a pottery course at the Chattanooga YWCA for eight years and was a charter member of the In Town Gallery, then located on Cherry Street. She was an active participant for 17 years in Fannie Mennen’s “Plum Nelly” art shows on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and demonstrated wheel throwing at the Pioneer Skills shows at Falls Mill near Belvedere, Tennessee for three years. She was a member of the Tennessee Artists Association, The Foothills Guild of Oak Ridge, The Piedmont Craftsmen of Winston-Salem, and served two years on the Tennessee Arts Commission. Her work was selected for many juried exhibitions throughout the southeast.
“The department was delighted to have an opportunity to exhibit examples of Lessie’s in the department and in conjunction with the department’s annual scholarship exhibition held each April,” said Matt Greenwell, head of the UTC Department of Art. “The works have provided invaluable depth and dimension to this year’s competition and their inclusion has underscored Lessie’s spirit and memory as a Chattanooga artist.”
To honor McCay’s life (1910 – 2003) her husband, Dr. Myron S. McCay, retired UTC Guerry Professor Emeritus of Physics and daughter Ann McCay Munson have initiated The Lessie Peeler McCay Scholarship for sculpture and ceramics majors of the UTC Department of Art. This award was presented for the first time at UTC Honors Day to 3-D Studio major Sharon Farrelly.
“On the behalf of the Department of Art, I’m deeply appreciative for the endowment of the Lessie Peeler McCay Scholarship in Ceramics and Sculpture,” Greenwell said. “This generous endowment funds the department’s first sustained scholarship with a specific focus on ceramics and sculpture. As such, it complements other scholarships within the department that have a focus on a particular medium and will ultimately serve to promote the profile of the department’s 3D program and the students that comprise it. The annual recognition and support provided through this scholarship will be invaluable to our student majors and, as with all of the department’s scholarship awards, it’s clear that the impact of this contribution will reach far beyond its monetary value.”
The Lessie Peeler McCay Scholarship is the second UTC scholarship created by the McCay family. The Stan McCay Scholarship in Chemical Engineering was established in memory of Myron McCay’s son.