Remembering Mac Boggs, Converse College professor and Verner Award recipient

Remembering Mac Boggs, Converse College professor and Verner Award recipient

We are saddened to note the passing of Mayo Mac Boggs. He was a beloved art professor at Converse College, an outstanding artist, and a 2013 recipient of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts.

(Image: Mac Boggs, center, with his wife, Ansley, and son, Will, at the 2013 Verner Awards ceremony.)

From the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

Over the last few weeks of his life, retired Converse College professor Mayo Mac Boggs received more than 200 cards, letters, phone calls and emails from the Converse College community.

College spokeswoman Beth Lancaster said Boggs, 71, who taught art at Converse for 43 years, died Monday after a long battle with heart disease.

“Mac will be remembered for his passion, for creative expression through art and sculpture and his devotion to his students and his Converse colleagues,” the college posted on Facebook Tuesday.

His wife, Ansley Boggs, a longtime education professor at Converse, said those messages her husband received in hospice even came from students who had never had him as a teacher. From his former students, he learned through their words how he had impacted not only them, but the lives of their children or grandchildren, or, if they followed his path into teaching, their students.

“The words used most often were ‘inspirational, compassionate, generous, fun, larger than life,’” Ansley Boggs said Tuesday. “He helped his students discover and become confident in their own creativity and its magic.”

Ansley Boggs expressed thanks to her colleagues for their support during her husband’s illness. She said they took over her responsibilities in the education department so she could care for Mac. She also said her colleagues brought the family dinner every night over the last couple of weeks.

“The response from the Converse community has been amazing,” she said.

Boggs, who worked in many mediums ranging from abstract painting, steel, bronze and stone, spent his entire teaching career at Converse. He is credited with bringing more of a focus on modern art to the campus, and during his first few years of teaching, the number of art majors grew from a small handful to more than 100, Lancaster said. Boggs oversaw construction of the Milliken Fine Arts Building, and he was responsible for the addition of several new art programs at the school, including interior design.

Boggs led trips abroad with students to see some of the world’s most influential art. He took students to manufacturing companies to investigate methods for fabricating their visions. He made calls to help students land jobs and internships and recently helped his student Ayako Abe-Miller with the technical aspects of creating the 1,700-pound sculpture she was commissioned to build for the University of South Carolina School of Medicine’s Greenville campus, Lancaster said.

Boggs grew up in Ashland, Ky. 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 he began developing a sense of shape and structure at an early age.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of North Carolina.

Tennessee native and fellow professor Teresa Prater, who began working with Boggs at Converse in 1990, said that Appalachian background the two shared allowed them to work well together.

Through his vast contacts in the Spartanburg community, Boggs often found a way to garner supplies for the art students, like remnants of canvas or metal for them to create with, Prater said. He was one of the best liked teachers on campus, because he knew how to talk to students.

“If it was a beginning student, he could pull out skills and creativity that they probably didn’t know they had,” she said.

Prater said Boggs could also inspire advanced students to create their best works.

From watching Boggs lead the department as chairman, Prater herself learned the skills and toughness she used when she later took on the leadership position.

“He was a good leader,” Prater said. “He was one of those guys who could take on a project and run with it. I learned that sometimes you have to push to get what the department needs, that you just gotta go out and get it.”

His last year of teaching, 2013, was difficult as he struggled with his illness, Prater said. But he kept coming back.

“That he taught so many years – it’s amazing,” she said. “But he loved his students and he loved Converse. We’re going to miss him, that’s for sure.”

During his career, Boggs’ work has been featured in the presidential libraries of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Boggs’ work is also displayed internationally in permanent collections of numerous corporations and private residences.

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 mayor’s proclamation. In 2000, April 29 was proclaimed “Mayo Mac Boggs Day” in the city.

In 2010, marking the occasion of Boggs’ 40-year teaching career and contributions to the local arts community, a retrospective exhibition featuring more than 300 pieces of his work was hosted by Converse, Wofford College and University of South Carolina Upstate.

Through the years, Boggs gave generously to arts-related causes in Spartanburg, according to colleagues. 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.

“Of the artists in South Carolina, Mac is one of the top ones, I think,” Prater said. “He’s mostly been in the Upstate but he’s made his mark in the community.”

Last year, Boggs received one of the state’s highest art honors, the S.C. Arts Commission’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for art education. He was honored at a Statehouse ceremony last May.

Although the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, Boggs’ focus always remained on teaching students at Converse, challenging them to discover their own creativity and make the most of their potential.

“I love the students,” Boggs told the Herald-Journal last year in a article about the state arts award. “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.”

Bailey Szustak, 21, graduated from Converse last May and is known for her horse sculptures on campus fashioned from metal and scraps, including rebar, electrical wiring, street signs and tires. She made seven of the life-size equine statues under Boggs’ tutelage, and three since as she’s begun studying philosophy for a master’s degree in Texas.

Szustak had Boggs for four classes, including introduction to 3-D design, sculpture and stone cutting. It was that introduction class that sparked her passion for metal working.

“He was always saying, ‘What about this? Did you think about doing this? Let’s figure out how to make this happen,’” Szustak said, in describing how Boggs gently encouraged his students. He didn’t tell students the “right” way to do something, but allowed them room to make mistakes and learn from them.

“I learned patience and flexibility,” Szustak said. “He encouraged trying new things. He would say, ‘Let the art speak.’ When I was in stone cutting, he said, ‘Let the stone decide what it wants to be.’ He was about the art work letting it speak for itself.”

Boggs’ memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 22 at Daniel Recital Hall at Converse. All Converse alumnae, family and friends are invited to attend.

In addition to his wife, Boggs is survived by three daughters, Gretchen Boggs Smith, Susannah “Zan” Cain Farr, Jordan Cain Ilderton, and a son, Will Boggs.

Condolences and special memories may be sent to Ansley Boggs at or mailed to her attention at Converse at 580 E. Main St., Spartanburg, SC 29302.