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Folk artist McCord honored as a 'humble, gifted person'

Renowed folk artist Albert R. (J.T.) "Jake" McCord died Sept. 1 at University Hospital in Augusta after an extended illness. Mr. McCord was 64.

Funeral services for the retired City of Thomson employee were held Saturday at Mount Zion Baptist Church near Lincolnton, Ga.

A native of Lincoln County, where he picked cotton as a little boy, Mr. McCord moved to Thomson as a young man. He worked for the city for nearly 40 years, cutting grass and performing other duties at the city cemetery, known as Westview.

The tiny country church that Mr. McCord attended and called his home church is just a short distance from where he grew up. His family was one of the first black families in Lincoln County to purchase land in that area.

Mr. McCord, a soft-spoken man, was widely known in the world of folk art. For years, he painted a variety of subjects, including people, cats and dogs. They were the simplest of paintings, work he sometimes put onto small sheets of plywood, as opposed to the more expensive canvas. Through the years, dozens of his paintings have been sold throughout the Southeast.

He used to sit out on the front porch of his wood-framed home on Railroad Street, just a stone's throw from downtown Thomson. Several of his paintings were nailed to the outside walls so that passersby could see his work. His work drew people from far away, especially after he became known via the Internet.

During Mr. McCord's funeral service and what was described as his home-going celebration, Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry called the man "a great city employee" and famous folk artist.

"If you gave Jake a job to do, you never had to worry about it getting done," Mr. Usry said. "The job got done and it got done right."

Mr. McCord's paintings were sold up and down the East Coast, added Mr. Usry. "I've got two of them hanging in my home and another one hanging in my office at city hall."

The mayor told those attending the funeral that the old front porch of Mr. McCord's home will be reconstructed in an exhibit room of the McDuffie Museum to honor the artist. His comments were met with rousing applause.

Thomson resident and radio celebrity Greg Harden said he thought of Mr. McCord as "a real close dear friend" whom he will miss a great deal.

"Jake was a very humble and gifted person," said Mr. Harden, who featured Mr. McCord about 25 times over the years on his two-hour radio show that airs each Saturday on WTHO FM, 101.7 in Thomson. "He was a very kind man and a very talented man."

Mr. Harden said he will remember Mr. McCord the most for the life stories that he shared with him and his radio audience.

Another person who admired Mr. McCord's strong work ethic and his talent as an artist was City Administrator Don Powers.

"It was obvious that he had great artistic talent, just looking at his works," Mr. Powers said.

As a city employee, Mr. Powers said, Mr. McCord was a fine worker.

"He sometimes didn't know when to quit for the day," laughed Mr. Powers. "I heard a story once where city workers were sent in a truck to go and tell him it was time to stop work for the day and go home."

Dianne L. Landers, city clerk of Thomson, fondly remembers Mr. McCord.

"He worked as hard as anyone I've ever seen in my life," she said. "He wanted the job to be done right when he finished it. Our cemetery always looked so nice when he worked for the city. And he never missed a day of work. He was always at work, faithfully."

She shared a memory concerning one of Mr. McCord's paintings that she saw about 10 years ago at a museum in Memphis, Tenn. While touring the museum with a group of church students from throughout the U.S., Ms. Landers said she happened across one of Mr. McCord's paintings in one of the exhibit rooms.

"I couldn't believe it," exclaimed Ms. Landers. "I called all of the children over and told them, 'The man that painted that picture is from my hometown of Thomson, Ga.' "

The museum is in what used to be the Loraine Hotel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

"I was excited about his painting hanging there in that museum," added Ms. Landers. "When I told Jake about it, he just smiled."

Henry Drake, a longtime friend of Mr. McCord's, attended the funeral. He, like so many there, said he will miss Mr. McCord.

"I was always glad to see J.T.," he said. "Sleep on, J.T., and save a seat for me."

Mr. McCord used to entertain guests by showing them some of his finished work. And sometimes, he would get out his guitar and play some tunes, while wearing one of his big hats and boots.

The Rev. Robert Crawford, who conducted the service, said of Mr. McCord: "Jake was a painter. He did fine work. In 2004, he painted a picture of our church."

That painting could be seen resting against Mr. McCord's casket.

Two other friends, Karen and Greg Mack, drove from their home in Tucker, Ga., to attend the funeral.

The couple, who own Mike's Art Truck, first met Mr. McCord in 2005, while traveling around the countryside trying to get to know as many folk artists as they could find.

"When we got to his house on Railroad Street, there was no doubt that we were in the right place," Mrs. Mack said. "Jake had nailed about a half dozen newly painted masterpieces to the walls of his front porch. The porch must have had at least as many rocking chairs as paintings.

"He came to the door all dressed up for us -- a satin shirt, giant belt buckle, giant cowboy hat and a giant smile. The first thing he told us was that he worked hard for a living and that painting was just his hobby."

Mr. McCord, who is survived by three brothers and six sisters, went on to tell Mr. and Mrs. Mack about his life on his dad's farm.

"He told us that he looked out the window of his daddy's house one night and there was a bear on the porch," recalled Mrs. Mack. "He painted pictures of the bear."

The couple bought three paintings on their first visit with Mr. McCord.

BILLY W. HOBBS Staff Pallbearers take the casket of Albert "Jake" McCord to burial site at his home church in Lincoln County.



Web posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009













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