Growing up on his father’s plantation near Clarksdale, Marshall Bouldin, III, dreamed of being a commercial illustrator like his hero, Norman Rockwell. Encouraged by his mother to pursue his love of art, he left Clarksdale in 1939 to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and there began a career that would gain him notoriety around the nation, even as it brought him home again.
In this episode, taken from our 1974 oral history interview, Bouldin details his evolution as an artist. During the year and a half spent at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, felt he learned from more by studying the Institute’s collection of paintings than he did attending class. When WWII broke out, he was forced to leave school. Deemed unfit for military duty due to a birth defect that left him with a limp, he worked as an illustrative draftsman for the Vultee Aircraft Company in Nashville, Tennessee.
After the war, Bouldin became the apprentice of a commercial illustrator in Connecticut where he honed his skills as he learned from the best in the business. He soon had his own studio and a New York agent who secured magazine work for him with publications like Colliers and Outdoor Life. It was after attending an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh, Bouldin realized that he envied the freedom of expression that differentiated artists from illustrators. He explains why he decided to come home to Clarksdale and become a portrait painter.
Throughout his career, Bouldin rejected the stereotypes associated with professional artists. He discusses why it’s important to stay connected to the rest of society. As a portrait painter, he was required to sell his services like any other professional. However, he maintained it was always about making new friends, not money. Of the hundreds of portraits he was commissioned to paint, many of the subjects were famous, including, President Nixon’s daughters, William Faulkner, William Winter and Mike Espy.