By PAM McPHAIL
Renown artist Samuel ‘Sam’ Marshall Gore left Calhoun County over 60 years ago to pursue a career in the world of art. His life’s journey would take him far and wide leaving behind a path filled with thousands of sculptures and works of art. He has become a legend in his own time as an artist and a teacher of art at Mississippi College.
Gore was among ten children born to the Rev. John E. Gore and his wife, the former Mary Letha Pepper of Hohenlinden Community in Webster County. His father’s ministry took him and his family throughout central Mississippi. While living in Calhoun County the family settled in what was known as the Burke Community. The Gore children; Johnnie, Albert, Granville, Dudley, John, Sam, Ruth, Tom Pepper, Bill and Daniel all attended school at Big Creek until the family moved to Hinds County in the early 1940’s.
In the Gore home a great deal of emphasis was placed on reading. Rev. Gore had majored in history in college and was an avid reader. Even though their mother had lost sight in one eye, she surrounded the children with good reading materials. In addition, each child had a Bible or a New Testament.
“Among other things in our possession was a small paperback book on the ministry of Sir Wilfred Grenfell (Dr. Grenfell). Of all my reading, this remained the most vivid in my memory,” said Gore in a Christianity and the Arts Magazine story on the artist. “This great man became my ideal when I was a young Christian, having accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of eight. I was captivated by his adventures as a medical missionary, including occasional trips by dogsled to remote inland villages and the selfless manner in which he lived his Christian witness. I had a vivid mental image of a man following a dogsled into the hills, leaving behind a village and harbor in which a small steamship lay at anchor.”
According to Gore’s biography, it would be some 30 years later when he was well into his teaching career at Mississippi College that the story of Dr. Grenfell would come alive once again. Gore had been commissioned to paint a mural in the dining room of a Jackson couple. After viewing the photographs the couple had put out for his inspection, the story of great missionary, Dr. Grenfell, came to his mind. He told the couple how he was fascinated by the story he had read as a child. Ironically, the couple was Dr. and Mrs. Raymond F. Grenfell, descendants of the renowned missionary. They were members of the Grenfell Association which commemorates the life of their renowned relative.
“All agreed that my early fascination with the great missionary and their seeking me out could not have been a mere coincidence, but that it was God’s plan that I was to paint the mural,” Gore said. “Using acrylics, I painted Dr. Grenfell following a dogsled toward the hills, against a background of evergreen trees, a village and a harbor, in which a small steamship lay at anchor. I painted with rapid, excited brush strokes. It was a celebration, a song of praise, for a vivid adult-level experience confirming what I had earlier believed with childlike faith.”
He tells of his experiences in the first grade when the new ABC Coloring Books were issued. He was so excited that he immediately started filling his book from cover to cover and once finished, he proceed to obtain the unused portion of a book belonging to the boy sitting next to him. By the third grade his passion for art had consumed him so he went down to the local store, owned by family friend, Lofton Lackey, and charged a can of bubble gum pink paint along with a paint brush. He came home and proceeded to paint the back steps as well as the handles of tools. He would later say that it was that incident that established him as an artist.
While the Gore children were still in their teens the family moved to Charleston, MS, where Sam graduated high school. Soon after, he spent a brief time in the Navy Air Corps V-5 program at the close of World War II before beginning his college career at the Atlanta College of Art. After completing his art courses he came to Mississippi College where he fell in love and married the campus nurse, Marjorie Bryant. While completing his requirements at Mississippi College he was offered the art teaching job. He prayed about the offer before accepting as there were no art majors at the time attending the college. He didn’t have to wait long for the art students to appear. He continued his education by obtaining a Masters Degree from the University of Alabama and a Doctorate from Illinois State University in 1969.
People in churches throughout the U.S. will remember Sam Gore sculpting the Head of Christ in a 30 minute performance in which he gives a sermon as his gifted hands create the bust. It all began when he offered a course in clay modeling. He discovered that in giving class room demonstration that he could do it with amazing speed. It was another avenue in which he could use his art as a ministry to God. Some performances included music and special lighting while most performances were done in the context of Christian Worship.
He sculpted three basic forms: the Head of Christ, Madonna and Child and three heads representing Anglo-Americans, African American and Asian American. He has completed over 1,000 performances to date. He also has two secular performances, a bust of Don Giovanni during the last 30 minutes of the music of the Mozart opera, and the head of Shakespeare with Elizabethan music in the background.
Gore retired from full-time teaching at Mississippi College in 1992. His works have earned him countless honors and are featured all over the world. Some of his pieces can be seen at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum; Gilfoy Nursing Museum at the Baptist Medical Center in Jackson; Valley Baptist Medical Center; First Baptist Church in Jackson; Salvation Army at Hapeville, Georgia College; Mississippi College in Clinton; Mississippi College School of Law; Bowmar Avenue Baptist Church; Chapel of the Cross in Madison; Old Capitol in Jackson. There are many other statues that are in private homes as well as public facilities.
Today Gore and his wife, Marjorie, live in Clinton. He still works with his art and continues to tell about his love for Christ through his performances in which he creates the Head of Christ from clay. They have four children: Judy Geary who is a family physician and teaches family medicine at the University Medical Center; Paul, who is in the field of advertising and lives next door to his parents; Jan, who is a school teacher in Texas, and Phillip is a nuclear physicist who has a PhD, and is known for research and discovery in his field. At this writing, they have four grand children and one great grandchild.
Julia Brown Harrison of Derma attended school with the Gore children in Big Creek where their father preached.
“Back then, the Methodist and the Baptist took turns and used the same church. The Gores farmed like most everyone else back them. They were poor like all the rest of us. All of the children did well. Sam was a little older than I. His brother, Gilbert made a physician. He and Sam both have been back to the Big Creek school reunion. Sam came to Lewis Memorial Church and sculpted the Head of Christ. It was a very moving experience. I have also seen his work in the Agriculture Museum in Jackson of the ‘Working Man.’ It is unbelievable. It is so real looking and so detailed. Everyone ought to see it,” she said.
Mrs. Harrison said she never had any idea when Sam was in grade school that he possessed that kind of talent.
“We never had any art taught in our school. He just had the gift,” she said. “They were real good people.”
Judge Henry Lackey met Gore while at Mississippi College. “He is a person who we are proud to have from Calhoun County,” Lackey said. “He loves his work and loves for people to look at his work. He came to First Baptist of Calhoun City and sculpted the Head of Christ while he conducted a worship service. It was outstanding.”
Lackey said that Gore’s great, great grandfather, Thomas Gore, donated the section of land that Calhoun City is built on.
“His grandfather is buried near the Myrl T. Owen home in Calhoun City on Lackey Drive. A story that has been handed down through the years is that there was a treasure buried there. When I was a little boy I dug under every tree around looking for the treasure. The only house I didn’t dig under was Coot Boland’s. Later there was a stone placed on the grave and people still came by trying to find the grave. Once I received a call from a neighbor, Harry Botcher, that there were some relatives in town looking for the grave site and they had heard about the treasure. I laughed and told them there was no need in looking unless they wanted to dig under Coot Boland’s house, because I had looked everywhere else. The story about the treasure still lives on,” he laughingly said.
Thomas’s son, who was nicknamed “Rock” was tarred and feathered in Calhoun County for preaching against alcohol. After surviving that he went on to become a Methodist circuit rider (preacher) in Gore Springs, the town that bears his name.
Lackey said, “Every time I go to Mississippi College I make it a point to see Sam. I also make it a point to see the statue of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and Moses bringing the tablet of the Ten Commandments down Mt. Sanai. His work is so moving.”
Jasper Lewis McPhail said he knew Sam when they were going to basketball games at Slate Springs, Pittsboro, and Big Creek.
“We were classmates at Mississippi College and have remained friends throughout the years. We live near each other in Clinton and attend the same church. Sam is a member of Sunday school which I teach. I have always loved art and Sam is the best impressionist, outside Claude Monet, that I have ever known,” McPhail said. “He is a committed person, humble about everything he does. His ministry of sculpting the Head of Christ as he preaches is the most moving experience I have ever encountered. His audience is usually spellbound, and he does it with the most serene expression on his face. He never gets in a hurry, and sometimes I wonder if he can finish the work in 30 minutes, but he always makes it.”
“Looking back it is amazing that a small-town young man like Sam Gore would return to his alma mater to head a new art department without any students, faculty, or facilities,” McPhail said. “Fast forward 58 years later, the department is one of the most important in the region with renowned art collections, many faculty and students from as far away as China and Nepal. Sam Gore’s personal art and sculpture is widely acclaimed throughout the art world.”
According to McPhail, Alex Ettl, owner of the Sculpture House of New York was so impressed after visiting Dr. Gore in his Mississippi College Department that he wrote a check to endow a sculptor award to be given annually to a student and later was to endow a chair of art at the college. McPhail donated his art collection of 92 art works valued at over $1 million to Mississippi College in appreciation for the college and in honor of his friend Sam Gore for his unique contributions to the college and the field of art in general.
“Dr. Gore is considered a great impressionist artist and is internationally known for his Biblical Sculptures. His worship services speak to me in a way that is unforgettable. He is remarkable. His life matches what he says. It is always about the man he portrays – Jesus,” said McPhail.