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

By Smith, Lee; Crowther, Hal | Southern Cultures, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

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


Smith, Lee, Crowther, Hal, Southern Cultures


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.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

by Lee Smith

Back when I was a very dramatic and religious girl, I often spoke at Christian youth groups and camp meetings. As my minister once said in introducing me, "This here is Lee Smith, and she just loves to testify!"

As if this weren't bad enough, I embarrassed my staid Methodist parents further by developing a fervent addiction to revivals when I was about seventeen. Not the nice little revivals we held in our stone Methodist Church in town, but tent revivals out in the county when the word of God-ah! was shouted out by hard-breathing, wild-eyed gospel stompers, and people hollered out and danced and spoke in tongues and threw their babies. I'd sneak off to these revivals with my school friends, and every time they issued that familiar altar call and that irresistible hymn started up--"Just As I A-am Without One Plea"--there I'd be, up out of my seat before I even noticed I was moving, then rushing forward, in a pure-T frenzy to rededicate my life one more time. Frequently they'd immerse you on the spot--right there in the river or the little tent behind the big tent--and then I'd come home all dripping wet again--and then of course my mother would know exactly where I'd been.

Finally they told me they were taking my car away unless I promised to stop rededicating my life all over the county, as it had become so embarrassing for them.

So I stopped. I wanted those wheels.

But I will never forget the way I felt when I stood up and came forward, that heightened, exalted holy feeling that came over me. My mother used to call it GETTING ALL WROUGHT UP and viewed it as a kind of sickness, like the flu. (And need I say that she felt it was also unladylike?) I should mention that the excitement of the revival was compounded by the fact that we often had dates for the revival, since there wasn't anything else to do in that town, or anyplace else to go, and that oftentimes, your date would be holding your hand while you both got all wrought up together. …

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