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Louise H. McCagg (1936-2020)

Louise Heublein McCagg — artist, philanthropist, feminist and mother-died peacefully, surrounded by her family, Nov. 26, 2020, after a heroic, 20-year struggle against Parkinson’s Disease.

Artist, philanthropist, feminist, and mother, Louise was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1936. Her interest in the arts led her to New York City to attend Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1959 with a B.A. in English Literature while studying printing and painting at the Arts Students League in New York City. It was at this time that she met and married her husband, William Ogden McCagg, Jr.

The McCaggs moved to East Lansing, Michigan, when Bill began his tenure at Michigan State University as a Professor of East European history. While raising their two daughters, Louise earned her M.F.A. in Sculpture from Michigan State University, graduating in 1971. As an aside, she was the first woman allowed to “pour” in the Sculpture department at MSU. That is metal, not tea!

She collaborated with friends and artists in building two Geodesic domes, one of which would serve as her studio and foundry where she practiced the Lost Wax Process. She participated in the East Lansing artist community and actively showed her work. Her sculptured pillar of “art supporters” stands in East Lansing, Michigan, as does Beatrice at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Louise used her art and her voice to champion a variety of Civil Rights causes.

Her husband’s work as a scholar of East European history included a number of sabbaticals that allowed the couple to live for extended periods in Europe, particularly Hungary. While living in Budapest—where Bill, an American and non-Jew, was the first scholar to be allowed into the Hungarian archives where he researched his books, including The Habsburg Jews—Louise and Bill developed lifelong friendships with the experimental artists and intellectuals of the time—not least Miklós Erdély—and members of an avant guard theatre group, later known in New York as Squat Theater. Louise’s work was deeply influenced by her Hungarian and East European friends, some of whom the McCaggs championed and helped to relocate to the United States.

When Louise was in her fifties, she and her husband returned to New York City where Louise continued her career and became a member of the A.I.R. gallery. Louise exhibited widely, both in the United States and internationally. She also collaborated with a new generation of Hungarians on many projects, one of them being part of the Hungarian Pavilion of the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Louise McCagg, Col Tempo, 2009, Shown as part of Peter Forgacs’ installation at the Hungarian Pavilion, Venice Biennale
Louise McCagg, Congregation, in a 2018 exhibition at the A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, NY

In her work, Louise consistently fused her interest in a formal, figurative sculptural aesthetic with her own experience and relationships, bringing together both rigorous artistic structure and intimate, personal experience. Over decades, and around the world, she cast face masks of those important to her and synthesized them into larger visual works that told both a deeply personal, self-empowered narrative and, simultaneously, a larger, archetypal one: that we are all one, no matter who we are or where we come from.

Intellectually curious, always creating, ever courageous, Louise McCagg was herself a force of nature. She developed Parkinson’s Disease in her 60s. As the disease progressed, Louise fought her body’s decline. Her endurance and refusal to stop working vividly demonstrated her deep love of life and evoked the provocative beauty of her life’s creations. With her wildly generous spirit and love of humanity, Louise enriched the lives of hundreds of people.

Contributed by the artist’s daughter, Xanda McCagg.

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