Converse Mourns Passing of Beloved Professor Mayo Mac Boggs

"Infectious passion." "Lasting influence." "Generous."

Those are a few of the ways that colleagues, former students, and friends of Mac Boggs, Converse Professor Emeritus of Art, describe his work as an artist and teacher. For more than four decades, he was a pioneering force on the Converse campus and in the Spartanburg arts community. On March 10, 2014, this community bid him farewell as he lost a courageous battle with heart disease at age 71. A public celebration of his life will be held at Converse in Daniel Recital Hall on the day that would have been his 72nd birthday, Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 2 p.m.

The Converse community holds Mac’s family in our thoughts and prayers – his wife, Dr. Ansley Hassell Boggs '77, Associate Professor of Education at Converse, their daughters Gretchen Boggs Smith '95, Zan Cain Farr '06, and Jordan Cain Ilderton '04, and son Will Boggs. The family has requested that memorials be made to the Converse College Department of Art and Design or Carolina Poodle Rescue.

"Spartanburg treasures citizens such as Mac whose talents impact our community far and wide."

In recent weeks, Converse invited alumnae and friends to send special memories of Mac that could be read to him while he was in Hospice care. Well over 200 emails, cards, letters and phone calls came in and brightened his days. Next week, he will be honored by colleagues in the Department of Art and Design, who are funding the “Mayo Mac Boggs Award for Sculpture of the most Creative Use of Materials” at the 2014 Juried Student Art Show in Milliken Gallery. Mac and Ansley Boggs funded this award for several years, and last year it was funded in Boggs’ honor by the family of graduating senior Bailey Szustak. 

Today, the Converse campus reflects on Mac’s life and career with fond memories and deep respect. “Spartanburg treasures citizens such as Mac whose talents impact our community far and wide – not only by sharing his craft with students but also by contributing artwork that enlivens many facilities and grounds across the community,” said Converse President Betsy Fleming.  Richard Higgs, dean of the School of the Arts at Converse, noted, “Mac led the department of art & design through its transformative years. He brought numerous arts leaders into their chosen profession and was recently honored by the State of South Carolina for his distinguished service as an educator. He was a fellow Kentucky Wildcat and a dynamic leader for the regions visual arts for decades. Mac was top notch.” And Jeff Barker, Vice President for Academic Affairs, reflected, “Mac Boggs dedicated his professional and artistic life to the students of Converse College. His example of a committed, working artist inspired generations of students and filled countless spaces with inspiring art.”

"Mac Boggs dedicated his professional and artistic life to the students of Converse College."

The public is invited to join in the sharing of memories on social media, and to read reflections of others, by tagging posts with #messagesformac.

Beloved Artist and Teacher

Mac Boggs grew up in Ashland, Kentucky. His father and grandfathers were welders and steelworkers and Boggs was always interested in scrap metal. He made a little spending money by gathering up pieces to sell to nearby businesses, and began developing a sense of shape and structure at an early age.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky and the MFA from the University of North Carolina. His appointment to the Converse faculty in 1970 marked the start of a long love affair with Converse. In 1972, early in his tenure at Converse, Boggs was named the inaugural recipient of the Kathryne Amelia Brown Award for Excellence in Teaching at Converse. The legion of students impacted by his care, his skill, his love for his craft, and oftentimes his vision for their lives (which sometimes exceeded that which even they could imagine), has become legendary in Converse history.

Mac Boggs was the consummate teacher-artist, living as an example to students who dream of living the artist’s life to its fullest. Over the course of his career, his work was featured in the presidential libraries of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. It is displayed internationally in permanent collections of numerous corporations. Boggs was invited to present his September 11th World Trade Center memorial, The Halo Project, at the fourth edition of the exhibition "International Biennial of Contemporary Art" in Italy. In addition, he received many sculpture commissions for private residences, one of which is the home of the author Lillian Jackson Braun.

Working across many mediums ranging from abstract paintings, steel sculptures, and bronze work to computer graphics and architectural designs, Boggs often pointed to a highlight of his career in 2007 when he experienced his first work with marble during a five-week trip to Pietrasanta, Italy. There, he carved marble that had been excavated from the shadowing Monte Altissimo, which is Italian for "Highest Mountain” and also known as Michelangelo's marble mountain in honor of the legendary artist who personally selected and used the exquisite marble for his own carvings. In true Mac Boggs fashion, he brought three thousand pounds of Monte Altissimo marble back to his Spartanburg studio, and spent five weeks chiseling away for nine hours each day to create a fabric-inspired sculpture as tribute to the rich textile history of this area.

"Professor Boggs had a huge impact on me in a lot of ways; both as an artist guiding me to become a welder and to sculpt big, bold, and beautiful works, and as a person by helping me find my confidence and teaching me to dream without limits."

Through the years, Boggs gave generously to the arts-related causes in the Spartanburg community. He collaborated with Converse education professors on summer camp experiences for students with learning disabilities. He painted murals on the walls of a local school for students with disabilities and consulted with the director of arts at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind. Boggs was a frequent guest speaker for lecture-demonstrations, exhibited his work widely, and was featured by many radio and TV shows.

In 1981, the city of Spartanburg commissioned Boggs to produce a bronze medallion to commemorate the city's sesquicentennial. In 1991, he was named Honorary Artist of Spartanburg by proclamation of the Mayor of Spartanburg. In 2000, the Mayor proclaimed April 29 as "Mayo Mac Boggs Day." In 2010, marking the anniversary of his 40-year teaching career and contributions to the visual arts community in Spartanburg, a retrospective exhibition featuring more than 300 pieces of his work was hosted by three colleges in Spartanburg – Converse, Wofford College, and USC Upstate.

In recognition of his accomplishments at Converse and beyond, Boggs received the 2013 Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for Arts in Education. The award was, for Boggs, a capstone to a career that transitioned with his retirement from Converse College that same year. The SC Arts Commission said of Boggs: "(He) spends enormous amounts of time, energy and expertise advocating for arts education. His dedication and commitment have made all the difference for a cadre of artist-teachers and students across the state." Winston Wingo, a highly regarded artist and teacher in Spartanburg who has known Boggs since the 1970s, praised his dedication to his students and to the wider arts community. In a letter of support for Boggs' Verner nomination, Wingo wrote, "He has for many years...served as a role model to me and helped guide my career in arts education."

Throughout it all, his focus remained on teaching students at Converse, challenging them to discover their own creativity and make the most of their potential.

Recent sculpture student Ayako Abe-Miller ’12 landed a commission for her first public artwork just three months after graduation. The 1,700 pound steel sculpture dubbed Balance and Harmony is displayed at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine’s new campus in Greenville, S.C.  Abe-Miller says she would not have considered submitting her proposal for such an opportunity without the urging of Boggs. 2013 Converse graduate Bailey Szustak is another recent student mentored by Boggs. Her senior art exhibition of horse sculptures currently adorn the front campus lawn, and were purchased by 2013 commencement speaker Erskine Bowles among others. Today, she is enjoying a prestigious assistantship for graduate study at the University of Texas. "Professor Boggs had a huge impact on me in a lot of ways; both as an artist guiding me to become a welder and to sculpt big, bold, and beautiful works, and as a person by helping me find my confidence and teaching me to dream without limits,” she said. 

Perhaps Boggs’s own words best captures his reasons for dedicating his life to teaching: "I love the students," he said in an article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. "I love watching them go, in a semester or four years, from total confusion, total self-doubt, to seeing themselves blossom and bloom. All it takes is one inspired person in the class to make it all worthwhile."