Agnes McLean’s Legacy of Art Lives at Chelsea Retirement Community

This summer, Sam Tallman of Claremont, North Carolina, paid a visit to Michigan for a family reunion.  He and his wife, Cindy, decided to make a side tour as well – to find a relative’s artwork.  Sam’s great grandmother, Agnes McLean of Ann Arbor, was a sculptor.  One of her works, “One World”, completed in 1946, was made to adorn the entrance of Chelsea Retirement Community where it still stands. 

Sam’s grandparents had divorced when his mother was a young child, so she lived with her grandmother, (Sam’s great grandmother), Agnes.  As an older woman, Agnes discovered a talent and passion for sculpting, says Sam. “As a young girl, my mom would model for my great grandmother.” 

Agnes became acquainted with Professor Avard Fairbanks at the University of Michigan when she first enrolled in one of his courses at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1940.  Professor Fairbanks was well-known for his religious-themed sculptures as well as sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, the most famous of which reside in the U.S. Supreme Court Building and Ford’s Theatre Museum. 

Agnes’ “One World” sculpture depicts Christ holding the world in his hands as a way to promote world unity, according to a June 7, 1946 article in the Ann Arbor News.  She also created a sculpture called “Pan” which was given to the Interlochen Center for the Arts at the same time.  Both statues were sent to New York to be cast in bronze.  Agnes also made several works of her grandchildren.

 Eventually, Sam’s mother married, and his parents moved to North Carolina where his dad was a football coach and his mom was a second grade teacher.  Artistic talent runs in the family:  Sam’s mother enjoyed painting, and Sam, a retired engineer, has his own woodworking business and makes hand-carved spoons.  His wife, Cindy, does abstract photography and mixed media with glass.

“It is so gratifying to have this connection with my great grandmother,” says Sam.  “Agnes was well into her 70s when she took up sculpting and found she had a talent for it.  I think she would want people to know that it’s never too late to follow your passions and never too late to leave a legacy.”