McClelland art on display in eponymous gallery

“Birds have been important to me all my life, particularly when I became Adventist,” explained Jim McClelland, whose name has become synonymous with Union College's art program after 38 years of teaching. His vibrant paintings have inspired students, embellished Engel Hall and given him a national reputation. They are now on display in the McClelland Art Gallery until April 22.

“When I was 17, I was taken in by an Adventist family who had a son my age,” said McClelland. “They had lots of birds and we would go bird-watching on the weekends. I’ve always envied birds because they can fly. They see so much of the world and are so colorful.”

McClelland’s bird paintings have been widely acclaimed and featured in international exhibitions. “When I came to Union College in the 1970s and exhibited work, ecology was a hot thing,” said McClelland. “A lot of people wanted bird paintings and I eventually became known for it. Now that’s what I’m famous for.”

Every year during Homecoming Weekend, McClelland exhibits his work in the eponymous art gallery. “I usually display whatever major pieces I’ve been working on throughout the year,” he said. “Alumni often buy my paintings as I’ve been here a long time, they know my reputation as an artist and because the paintings have a strong identification with Union, though I hope they buy them mainly because they’re beautiful.”

McClelland’s ministry at Union extends beyond his beautiful pictures. He has dedicated his career to guiding and counseling students. “I grew up in an alcoholic home that didn’t value education,” he explained. “When I became a Christian, I really began to see the value of learning, and I have never wanted to be anything but a teacher since then.”

Though now 75 percent retired, McClelland still dedicates his time and energy to his calling. “I love Union, I couldn’t love it more,” he said after nearly four decades in Engel Hall. “It’s a sacred privilege to be a teacher—to be impacted by people and to impact them. I’ll teach as long as kids still like me and I like them.”

The McClelland Art Gallery is located in the Ortner Center on the campus of Union College, 3800 S. 48th Street. Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the gallery is free and open to the public. Paintings may be purchased at the Ortner Center front desk.