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USM professor recalls over half a century teaching art

By Jasmine Franklin
On April 11, 2020

When Jim Meade was a young boy he recalls seeing the “terrible” treatment of African-American children during segregation. Meade believes that experience was a  turning point in his life that impacted his career forever. 

As a young child, Meade spent some of his free time deer hunting with his father. On one early morning hunting outing with his father, Meade recalls an incident that led to his decision to teach in Mississippi. 

“When I was a little boy me and my daddy would go deer hunting. We never had owned a car so we were waiting at this place for a guy to go with us to pick us up and it was about four in the morning. The ground was frozen, I can remember the ice cracking as we walked over the mudpuddles. I remember seeing these little black kids catching a bus to go to school. They couldn’t go to the school I went to, they went to a school on the other side of the county. I watched them cross through the mountains in below freezing weather,” Meade said.

When Meade was 16 he lost both of his parents. His experience witnessing the hardships African-Americans endured was very influential to him and stuck with him since he was child. 

“It had a big effect on me. I tried to do what I thought was right in the civil rights movement. I’ve marched with Martin Luther King Jr. before in Georgia. I just think it’s terrible that at one point it was illegal to teach a negro child in the state of Mississippi,” Meade said. 

Meade has worked at the University of Southern Mississippi for fifty-five years and does not desire to leave anytime soon.

“I’ve been at USM for 55 years and I love it. It would scare me to death to leave, even when I have a vacation I miss these students. Although I’ve been here for a long time, if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t do it.”

Throughout Meade’s career practicing art he has hosted over 130 shows and has had work in 17 international exhibits.

“If you would have told me 55 years ago that I would be here now and have work across the world. I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Meade said. 

Meade initially had aspirations to be a football coach. He didn’t desire to be a teacher although he had been subconsciously helping others since he was in boy scouts. 

“I always taught, even when I was a little boy I was in the scouts and I had learned to tie knots. It seemed like it was easy to me. I began teaching the other kids to tie knots,” Meade said.  

He attributes his teaching skills to several teachers he had in high school that had a major effect on him.

“I had about two or three good teachers in high school that had that effect. I keep a sketchbook and it probably has about 70 volumes in it. I’ve caught myself in the past couple of years writing a lot about my high school teachers,” Meade said. 

Both of Meades grandfathers were coal miners back in the 1890s. They would work hours for one dime. After working for thirty years, Meade’s grandfather didn’t even have a penny saved.  Growing up in a low income household Meade never had any art lessons or classes until college.

“I took my first art lesson when I was a junior in college. I always made stuff and when I got to East Tennessee University and had the chance to study art I fell in love” Meade said.

Meade believes students have to be passionate about art. He teaches students skill and techniques however he believes, the desire to create must come from within. 

“I do not try to recruit in this field, it is a delayed reward. The hardest thing about doing it is getting started. I can tell a kid where to look but I can't tell him what to see. I like to provoke and stimulate the students,” Meade said. 

USM senior, Mary Roberts, said Meade has been her favorite teacher at the university because he taught her to see art from a different perspective. 

“I had him for a foundation art course my freshman year. I’m so happy I was in his class because he is very knowledgeable. He uses this teaching style that he calls proactive teaching. At first it’s intimidating then it actually starts making a lot of sense. It forced me to create solutions on my own,” Roberts said.

Assistant Professor of Design, Linh Nguyen, said Meade was very welcoming when she started teaching at the university last semester.

“He is very dedicated to teaching and loves what he is doing. He has been really supportive of me being a new faculty member. I feel like he’s a really nice person in general, not only as a professor. I can tell he wants me to succeed here at USM. I know students walk away from his class knowing much more than when they walked in,” Nguyen said. 

Meade said that he believes everyone deserves an education despite race, ethnicity or gender. 

“I’ve learned a lot from my students that I’ve had through the years. I’ve witnessed a lot. Overall, I learned to be honest and to be myself because you only get one life to live,” Meade said. 

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