Special to The Clinton Courier
From the moment Mississippi College obtained the old Clinton Junior High School building on Fairmont Street in 2010, Dr. Samuel M. Gore, the “Founding Father” of the MC Art Department, knew how to maximize the new facility.
While establishing the art department in the 1950s and nurturing its growth by recruiting remarkable faculty and students into the program, the internationally renowned Christian artist recognized the need for enhanced space that would allow students the necessary room to flex their creative muscles.
For Gore, there was little question the junior high building could one day be renovated to serve that very purpose.
“I believe Dr. Gore’s imprint is on everything in our department, and it will be forever,” said Dr. Randolph B. Miley, professor and chair of art at MC. “He spent his whole life building what we’ve got now and dreaming about possibilities for the future. We think about him all the time. His work is evident in the department and in the gallery. It’s a big part of our program.
Gore died in 2019, but the facility he envisioned will become a reality when MC officially dedicates the renovated school building as the Gore Arts Complex in 2022.
Funded in part by a $1 million gift from a generous charitable foundation, the renovation and design of the school building, originally constructed in the 1940s, will be done by CDFL and Alliant Construction. Reconstruction began immediately after Thanksgiving and is expected to be completed by the fall academic term.
“The Gore Arts Complex and its community space will give people a new and inspiring reason to visit our campus,” said Dr. Blake Thompson, president of MC. “This facility represents the latest chapter in MC’s long legacy of excellence in art programs and commitment to faith.”
“It’s so fitting that this facility, where new generations of artists will learn, be named in memory of Dr. Samuel Gore,” Thompson continued. “Dr. Gore lived to share the story of Christ and tell that story through art. There is no better example for future artists to follow. Dr. Gore transformed lives through his art and his teaching, and MC will continue that legacy in this building that bears his name.”
Gore’s daughter, Dr. Judy Gearhart, fondly remembers attending classes in the old school building when she was growing up in Clinton. The MC graduate, artist, and former professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center said she is delighted the project will not only add to her father’s legacy at MC, but also rejuvenate a beloved part of the town’s rich history.
“People who grew up going to that school like I did will be excited to see it having a new life,” Gearhart said. “They are preserving a lot of the building’s old architecture, restoring the old wood floors, the old terrazzo floors, keeping the old storage cubbyholes in place, the old coat racks.”
The Gore Arts Complex will include specific studios for drawing, painting, sculpture, papermaking, pastels and woodworking. It will feature an outdoor, covered kiln courtyard for firing ceramics, which was high on Gore’s list of priorities.
“Dad’s passion was seeing a wonderful new facility for sculpture and clay artwork to be developed and to see the potential for bronze casting,” Gearhart said.
The complex is planned to encompass more than just a facility for fine arts, Miley said.
“It’s called the Gore Arts Complex – arts with an ‘s’ – because it will also incorporate music and theater,” he said. “Musicians will be able to perform in the band hall, and there will be a theater in the auditorium.” The auditorium can also be used for large classes or as a gathering space for MC or members of the Clinton community.
And, of course, the work of Gore’s skilled hands will be evident throughout the complex.
“Dr. Gore left us a lot of sculptures, a lot of paintings, all housed in the Gore Gallery right now,” Miley said. “It would be a great tribute to Dr. Gore and his ministry if we could display several artworks in the new complex. It would reinforce the mission of our department, which is to promote a Christ-driven department.”
Gearhart said she is pleased that a sculpture from a member of the well-known Lassetter family will also adorn the complex, further linking the renovated facility to the city of Clinton. Featuring the internal mechanisms of a piano, the work was completed by the late Rev. Dr. Stuart Lassetter when he was a student at MC.
Stuart Lassetter’s father, the late J.M. “Prof” Lassetter, was an MC alum, charter member of the 50 Year Club, and longtime superintendent of Clinton Consolidated School. Lassetter Drive on the MC campus was named in his honor. Stuart’s daughter, Carrie Lassetter Reeves, an MC graduate and art professor at the Christian University, was one of Gore’s former students who, after his death, helped complete the third disciple in his Christ in Gethsemane sculpture on the MC campus.
“It seems so fitting that Dad’s vision is coming true with this facility, but that it’s also carrying on the Lassetter legacy, as well,” Gearhart said.
While final plans for the Art Department are still pending, Miley said graphic design would stay in the Aven Fine Arts Building, and printmaking and interior design would remain in Farr Hall. All other fine arts programs would move to the new complex.
“The potential of this building is remarkable, because it will have a multidisciplinary effect,” said Miley. “With the new auditorium, we’ll have the opportunity to do outreach to the community with art. Once we get things running, I think the ideas are just going to start generating quickly. And it will attract more artists here to study.”
Gearhart said she hopes the Gore Arts Complex will be a lasting reminder to faculty, students, and visitors of her father’s dedication to the University, the community, and the Creator.
“I hope they can grasp his love and passion for education in the arts,” she said. “His heart was always to glorify God through the arts, and he loved MC, he loved his students, and he was absolutely passionate about art education.
“To see an entire art complex that makes that possible is a vision that he wanted everybody to share. I hope that it’s something the whole community can get behind and support through donations, participation and encouraging the arts.”
For more information on giving opportunities, visit: www.mc.edu/gorecomplex.