A Celebration of the Life and Career
of James R. McCredie
Professor Emerita, Hunter College
Jim McCredie was one of the first professors I met when I came to the Institute of Fine Arts in the Fall of 1964 to study Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology. At that time, the Greek and Roman Library was located on the second floor in the southeast corner of the building and Jim's office was right next to it. One Saturday morning when I was studying in the library, I heard human footsteps coming down the hall to his office accompanied by the sound of paws and the clinking of metal tags on a collar. It was Jim and his friendly Bassett Round, Russell, who wagged his tail and licked my hand. Instant friendship. Later I was Russell's dog sitter when Jim and Mimsy went to the opera and Russell needed to go out before they got home. I enjoyed these nonarchaeological assignments very much.
Jim taught many different courses and seminars and one of the best lecture courses I took with him was titled "The Greek City". Jim liked to offer his lecture courses on Friday evening from 8-10 pm under the misguided idea that none of us would wish to sign up for a course that met that late in the week. Very wrong! It was a memorable course. Each week Jim would present one or two, perhaps three major cities, their ground plans, remains of buildings and their purpose. Some were well preserved, but most were in ruins which Jim could discuss in a manner that made them seem well preserved. Objects and comparanda were also important. I think Jim had first hand knowledge of nearly every one of these cities from his years at the American School of Classical Studies, because when he described the plans and the buildings, it seemed as if he was walking in them. I still have my notes.
At that time, we could smoke anywhere in this building except in the classroom, but only because there was no room for the necessary ash trays! Jim smoked a pipe then and we figured out how he thought the seminar report was progressing by how often he lit and relit his pipe while he was sitting with us at the big round table; if it was often, the report was not going well - I am not sure if he was aware of this unintended signal. But we were and found it rather amusing.
For many summers, I participated in the excavations at Samothrace and it was during these eight week seasons that I learned so much from Jim about architecture, especially how to recognize blacks usually from mere fragments of which there was no scarcity, to identify the material (marble, limestone), the shape (if possible); often was if there was a feature such as part of a molding, or a cutting where there might once have been a clamp attaching the fragment to another block, this would help with the identity. Jim was an expert at figuring out the shape of a black, where it would have appeared on the building, its probable size, etc. It was a process somewhat akin to trying to do a three-dimensional jig-saw puzzle with most of the pieces missing and Jim was an expert at this kind of puzzle. I enjoyed this process very much and it led to my specialization in and publication of Greek vases, both whole and in particular fragments in which vases often are when found in excavations. There were many at Samothrace and Jim let me study all them and make notes and drawings. One of them, a beautiful fragment of a red-figured krater dating about 460 B.C. preserves some of the head and left shoulder of Apollo with his kithara and was the subject of my contribution to Jim's Festschrift published in 2010.
There were also many, many differents kinds of objects found in the trenches at Samothrace and these summers were a great learning experience for me - one never knew what objects might be uncovered by a workman - for example, terracotta statuettes, fragments of sculpture and glass, coins, and other objects. Everything was brought to the museum to be cleaned by our conservator and catalogued by us. Jim always stood by to help in answering our questions. Every day was a little bit like a seminar. There is something very special and rather sobering about being the first to handle objects, even if fragmentary, that have not been seen or handled by anyone in nearly 2000 years.
When Jim returned permanently to this country following his term as Director of the American School of Classical Studies (1969-1977), I did not see him very often especially when he was Director of the IFA (1983-2002) because he was so busy, but when he no longer served in this position and moved to Princeton where he has a beautiful home, he would come to the Faculty Meetings and we would often have a chat in the Loeb Room before he went to the meeting. These were always full of fun and laughter recalling some of the events that happened at Samothrace and elsewhere.
When the round trip from Princeton to New York to attend these meetings became too difficult, Jim and I would talk on the phone in the mid-morning, usually once every few weeks or so. I would call him when I had something to tell him that I thought would amuse him (which it often did) and we would chat for a while. These were great fun. The last time I called him was on July 11 and when he picked up the phone and said hello, his voice was very low, almost inaudible. I asked him, as I always did, how he was and his answer this time, was a very low "So, So". I knew something was not right, but knew he would probably not like me to ask if something might be wrong. This call was brief compared with previous calls and I was very concerned. On the following Monday morning, July 16, when I accessed my email, I had a message from Bonna Wescoat telling me that Jim had died late on Sunday evening. I immediately called Mimsy to convey my condolences and we spoke briefly.
Jim was an excellent scholar and a wonderful teacher who was always ready to share what he knew and to help, find material pertinent to a project a student was working on. For me he was both a mentor and a good friend. I miss him very much.