Bill McVey, artist, teacher, and athlete, was born in Boston in 1905 and moved to his home town, Cleveland, Ohio, with his parents in 1919. Big and athletic, he enjoyed football in high school, and after entering the Rice Institute in 1923 as an Architecture student Bill was promptly recruited for the team. McVey was elected Slime President (president of the freshman class at the Rice Institute) and became notorious for his good-natured shenanigans: there is a wonderful story in the Thresher about his escaping the pursuit of the sophomore class for days before the Freshman Ball. He made All-Southwest Conference as a defensive tackle in his first year at Rice, playing for Coach John Heisman’s football team. McVey fully enjoyed undergraduate life in Texas; however, by 1925 he decided to return to home to attend the Cleveland School of Art.
After graduating from the Cleveland School of Art in 1928 McVey set sail for Paris, became a student of Charles Despiau (an assistant of Auguste Rodin), and attended the Académies Scandinave, Colarossi, and la Grande Chaumière. Returning to Cleveland in 1932, McVey sculpted early works for the Works Progress Administration. He also married Leza Marie Sullivan, a ceramics and textile artist. In 1934 McVey returned to Texas to work, receiving the commission for the frieze and bronze doors of the San Jacinto Monument. He sculpted the bronze statue of Jim Bowie in Texarkana and the pink granite memorial to David Crockett in Ozona in celebration of the Texas Centennial in 1936. His most controversial work, a nine-foot statue of Sir Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, stands on the grounds of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. One of his last works was a life-sized bronze of John Heisman, now on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Several pieces of McVey’s work can be seen at Rice University. The figure “Energy” at the entrance of the Abercrombie Engineering Laboratories depicts man converting energy from the sun. Cohen House, the faculty club, is decorated with his bas-relief portraits of distinguished professors. McVey and his wife, Leza, created terra cotta plaques depicting college life for the commons at Will Rice College and the original Hanszen College. The Woodson Research Center in Fondren Library holds a bronze bust of Architecture professor William Ward Watkin that we spoke about here. You can find more about Bill McVey and his work in his papers at the Woodson Research Center.
Rice University Review, Vol 2, No. 1
Rice University Photo Files, Abercrombie Hall