David C.K. McClelland

David C.K. McClelland (1947-1976) was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up about thirty miles north near the community of Goodison. He was the oldest of three sons of Sarah and William McClelland. David learned to read at a very early age and became fascinated with comic books, particularly the Walt Disney comic books of the early 1950s and Mad Magazine. As early as the 1st and 2nd grades he was creating his own comic strips and books. In 1962, he entered boarding school at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, item2Ohio, where he became cartoonist of the school’s newspaper and editor of the literary magazine. His art instructor there was William Moos, who fostered his interest in calligraphy and introduced him to the internationally renowned calligrapher Father E.M. Catich of St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. Father Catich was an important mentor to David throughout his high school and college years.

McClelland entered Harvard College in 1965 where he majored in Celtic languages and Folklore & Mythology. He also became close friends with Philip Hofer, the Founder and First Curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at the Houghton Library. Hofer encouraged his study and creation of calligraphy and while at Harvard David created a wide variety of beautiful illuminated manuscripts as well as numerous posters for Harvard theatrical and dance productions. His work as a cartoonist blossomed on the Harvard Lampoon where he became known for his full-page and multi-page cartoon spreads. One of his creations for the Lampoon was a two-page fold-out cover entitled “The Bayeux Travesty,” a parody of the famous eleventh-century tapestry of the Norman invasion of England. McClelland’s version depicted Harvard’s victory over Yale in a Harvard-Yale football game, and many consider it to be the finest Lampoon cover ever done.

After graduating from Harvard, McClelland moved to New York City where he worked as a free-lance cartoonist and also a writer for many publications. His cartoons appeared in the National Lampoon, Harper’s Magazine and The Real World, and he wrote articles and profiles for periodicals including The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and Harper’s. He also worked on the original production of the children’s program “Sesame Street.”

During his years in New York, McClelland stayed in touch with Philip Hofer and was commissioned by Hofer to do a number of calligraphic manuscripts. From 1970 to 1974 over fifty of these were completed, including pieces with texts by Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Kao Shih, John Berryman, John Cage, passages from the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam,” and two completely original works. It is not certain that McClelland or Hofer ever told anyone else about these works, and the manuscripts were willed by Hofer to the Houghton Library when he died in 1984. It was only by chance that their existence was discovered by David’s younger brother William, who happened upon a description of them on the Houghton Library web site a few years ago.

A twofold project regarding David McClelland’s work has now begun. Plans include (1) an exhibition of the Houghton pieces along with other original works and reproductions, and (2) the publication of a book including reproductions of his works, biographical information, and other writings by and about him. Nearly forty years after his passing, those of us who knew and admired David look forward to this celebration of his exceptional life and work. 

For more information, please contact William McClelland at mail@muzen.com, or call 201-854-7483.

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