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Southern Cultures 10.1 (2004) 50-51

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"All Wrought Up"
The Apocalyptic South of McKendree Robbins Long

Lee Smith and Hal Crowther

Whether preaching the Gospel though the South at tent meetings and revivals or painting biblical scenes in his vivid, highly personal style, Reverend McKendree Robbins Long (1888-1976) embraced his callings with a stirring passion and a visionary's zeal. A quarter-century after his death, Long remains one of North Carolina's most original and distinctive artists.

Long grew up in a distinguished family in Statesville, North Carolina. Beginning in 1910 he studied painting first at the Art Students League in New York and then abroad. He established himself as a portrait painter and teacher in Los Angeles and New York.

A decade later Long returned to North Carolina and set aside his artistic ambitions in favor of another calling. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1922, he began a forty-year career preaching both from the pulpit and at tent revivals and small southern churches. His religious views grew more fundamentalist, and he eventually became Baptist, but Baptist or Presbyterian, his fiery preaching attracted a large following.

Long's notebooks from the time are filled with his own hymns and poetry, thoughts on theology, morality, and the ever-looming Apocalypse. After World War II and the onset of the Cold War, he became more convinced than ever that the events of Revelation were at hand. These beliefs found expression when he returned to his painting in the 1950s. Although he was academically trained, from this time on he worked in a highly individualistic style that helped convey his beliefs about religion and culture.

The paintings pictured here are from the exhibition Reverend McKendree Robbins Long: Picture Painter of the Apocalypse, organized by Davidson College and the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in 2002. The exhibition catalogue was published in 2002 by Davidson and NCMA.

The contributions by authors Lee Smith and Hal Crowther were first read at a public presentation on McKendree's work organized by Professors Lucinda MacKethan of North Carolina State University and Joseph Flora of the University of North Carolina and hosted by NCMA. [End Page 50]

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Figure 1
Much of the Reverend McKendree Robbins Long's amazing and bizarre art endorsed the belief that the events of Revelation were at hand. Self-Portrait in Hat and Coat, c. 1925-30, oil on canvas, from the Collection of Benjamin and Ella Long. Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Lee Smith is the author of nine novels and two short-story collections, and recipient of eight major writing awards. A native of southwestern Virginia, she resides in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with husband Hal Crowther.

Hal Crowther is a syndicated columnist and award-winning author. Crowther's collections of essays include Cathedrals of Kudzu, which won the Lillian Smith Book Award for Commentary. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with wife Lee Smith.