2013-03-08 / Columnists

From The Artist Studio

James McKay – Teacher, Artist, Mentor
Commentary by Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway lost a valued member of the community in December. James McKay was a talented and unique artist and human being. With a style flavored by his African-American roots, and reflecting a full grasp of the tools of his trade, McKay’s work was unmistakably ‘McKay.’

In addition to being a visual artist, McKay was a talented singer who was an original member of the famous Flamingos singing group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. More recently he sang with the groups Seaside Enterprise and Traditionally Yours, both composed of former members of the great do-wop/pop/rock groups of the past that include The Flamingos, The Drifters, The Revlons and The Coasters.

As a member of those contemporary groups, and as a longtime board member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA), McKay arranged for concerts to raise funds for the Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Theatre Company. They also sang at a variety of RAA events and were terrific every time – smooth, mellow and rockin’.

Perhaps McKay’s greatest value as a member of his community was as a teacher and mentor. As one of RAA’s most dedicated teaching artists, he taught landscape painting, drawing and photography in various parts of the city, to children and adults. He was also a New York City art teacher. He was a mentor and positive role model to countless young people under his tutelage, including Arthur Lloyd. Lloyd was one of the students who, under the direction of RAA teaching artist Alex Guzman, created a mural for a wall in the then new Angels on the Bay Pediatric Unit of Peninsula Hospital Center. At the unveiling ceremony Lloyd spoke spontaneously, proudly and eloquently, telling how happy he was to work on the mural to give something to the children in the hospital. McKay had much to be proud of in the young man who had been so much influenced by his former teacher.

In addition to being an exhibiting artist, teacher and board member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, McKay was chairman of the Fulton Artists Consortium. His works were displayed in this country and abroad.

How do we measure the worth of a man? By the beauty of the work he has created in his lifetime? Yes. By the output and quality of his profession? Certainly. By the friends and family who love him and whom he loves? Most assuredly. But perhaps most by the lives he has reached out to touch and influence in a positive way and especially the young lives he has guided to new heights? All that was the worth of James McKay.

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