Brother Joseph McNally

Brother Joseph McNally (b. 10 August 1923, County Mayo, Ireland1–d. 27 August 2002, Ballintubber, County Mayo, Ireland2), was a brother from the Catholic La Salle Christian Brotherhood who dedicated 37 years of his life to teaching in Singapore and Malaysia. He later gained renown as a sculptor and artist, and was also the founder and President Emeritus of the La Salle-SIA College of the Arts (today’s LASALLE College of the Arts).3

Early life
McNally's ancestors were Welshmen who had migrated to Ireland along with the Normans in the 12th century.4 Born in Ireland in 1923, McNally grew up on a small farming community in County Mayo. The community’s ancient history, sweeping natural landscapes and deep spiritualism, helped to shape his artistic vision in adulthood. Many of McNally’s works reflect inspiration drawn from nature, Celtic motifs and mythology as well as his religious faith.5 Although McNally displayed interest in art at an early age and dabbled in drawing and clay modelling, he did not study art until high school. However, he only took art seriously when he started teaching at the De La Salle College in Mallow, Ireland, in 1943.6 While teaching, he took art classes at the Mallow Technical School in the evenings and entered a nationwide painting competition at the Festival of Limerick in 1946 where he clinched first prize. The award encouraged him to continue pursuing art.7


Early education in Ireland
McNally’s path as an educator began when he left his hometown at the age of 14 to join the La Salle Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious teaching congregation.8 He studied and completed his novitiate at the De La Salle Retreat in Castletown, and his scholasticate at the De La Salle College. After graduating in 1943, McNally taught at the De La Salle College until his deployment to the Far East.9

Educational career in Malaya and development as an artist
In 1946, McNally was posted to Singapore and began his teaching career at the St Joseph's Institution at the youthful age of 23. In his free time, he would paint portraits and landscapes in oil. His artworks were first presented to the public in 1948 at an exhibition organised by the Singapore Art Society at the British Council. After Singapore, McNally completed a brief teaching stint at the St John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur.10


In 1951, McNally returned to Ireland to further his studies at the Irish National College of Art, Dublin, where he received classical art training in drawing, painting and sculpture. He also took classes on contemporary art which exposed him to non-classical approaches to Western art.11 After graduating in 1954, McNally staged his first solo exhibition showcasing his paintings at the Brown Thomas Gallery in Dublin.12

McNally returned to Malaya in 1955. He taught at the St Paul's Institution in Seremban and then the St Xavier's Institution in Penang. In 1958, he was appointed a staff member of the St Joseph's Training College in Penang and in 1962, vice-principal of St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur. He became principal of the institution the following year. To better integrate with the local people and culture, McNally took up Malaysian citizenship in 1965. In this period, McNally completed several murals for Catholic churches and educational institutions in Singapore, Penang and Myanmar.13

In 1968, McNally took a break from teaching to upgrade his skills. He enrolled in a Master in Arts programme at the Columbia University, New York, where he studied painting, printmaking, sculpture and art history. The sabbatical in America proved pivotal to his development as an artist. He was introduced to the use of machinery in sculpting, a process that he preferred over the traditional and slower method of chiselling and hammering. He also learned techniques and mediums such as polystyrene, polyester, and wax and bronze casting, which gave him new ways to express his creativity through form making. As McNally found it easier and more satisfying to create three-dimensional art than to depict a third dimension from a flat surface, he switched from painting to sculpture – the artistic form that he eventually became known for.14 Upon completing his master’s degree, McNally mounted a solo exhibition of his paintings and sculptures at the Crypt Gallery in Columbia University in 1970.15

In 1970, McNally returned to Malaysia and taught at the St Joseph’s Training College while concurrently researching on his doctoral dissertation. He attained his PhD in Art Education from Columbia University in 1972.16

Contributions to education and the arts in Singapore

In 1973, McNally joined St Patrick's School in Singapore as a teacher and became its principal in 1975. He implemented many changes and innovations during his term at St Patrick's. He abolished corporal punishment; set up a student's council and a students' parliament where elected students were allowed to make school rules; and formed the Patrician Society where parents, teachers and alumni could come together to discuss educational policies or raise funds for the school. He also spearheaded several building projects such as the school’s sports complex and hostel. He retired from St Patrick’s in 1982.17

Spurred by a vision to develop and nurture creativity in the visual and performing arts, McNally went on to found the St Patrick's Arts Centre in 1984, that later expanded to become today’s  LASALLE College of the Arts.18 He retired as its president in 1997 and was conferred the honorary title of President Emeritus.19

McNally took up Singapore citizenship in 1985.20 He made many other contributions to the development of the arts and the institutionalisation of art education in Singapore. Notably, he advised the Ministry of Education in its review and revision of the arts syllabus and helped establish the Arts Elective Programme in schools. He was also a member of the Visual Arts Advisory Committee (Ministry of Community Development) from 1988–1989, head of the Creative Taskforce on Visual Arts set up by the Economic Development Board in 1990, and a member of the National Arts Council when it was established in 1991.21 In recognition of his contributions to the promotion of the arts in Singapore, McNally was awarded the Public Service Medal in 1990 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1997.22

Artistic pursuits

In addition to being an educator and art advocate, McNally was also a highly regarded sculptor. In his lifetime,  McNally created over 200 works comprising sculptures and paintings.23 He used a diverse range of materials such as wood, epoxies, glass and metal  to create sculptures that were an ingenious blend of the East and the West, 24 focusing on the themes of humanity and nature.25 The sculptures were strongly influenced by Celtic mythology and the values of Southeast Asia, with the human figure and trees as subjects.26 A major retrospective exhibition of his works, titled “Wind of the Spirit”, was held at the Singapore Art Museum from 13 November 1998 to 31 January 1999.27  His sculpture, Agonising Form (1973), is on display at the DBS Singapore Gallery at the National Gallery Singapore.28


Death
McNally died at the age of 79  from a heart attack on 27 August 2002, during a visit to his hometown in Ireland. In 2006, a new road next outside the LaSalle College of the Arts was named McNally Street to honour McNally for his pioneering contributions to promoting and developing the arts and art education in Singapore.29 In commemoration of the 12th anniversary of his death, the Singapore Art Museum held a tribute event on 27 August 2014.30

Exhibitions31
1948: Singapore Art Society exhibition, The British Council, Singapore.
1954: One-man show, Brown Thomas Gallery, Dublin.
1970: One-man exhibition of paintings and sculptures, Crypt Gallery, Columbia University, New York. 
1976: Opening of the National Museum, Art Gallery, Singapore.
1980: Group exhibition, Fukuoka 1st Exhibition, Japan.
1981: First exhibition of Asian Christian Art exhibition, Singapore.
1982: One-man sculpture exhibition , Galway, Ireland.
1985: Group exhibition, Fukuoka 2nd Exhibition, Japan.
1991: Group exhibition, Multi Media Masters of La Salle, Della Butcher Gallery, Singapore.
1994: Group exhibition, opening of the Atrium Gallery, Singapore.
1994: “A Terrible Beauty”, sculpture exhibition, La Salle-SIA College of the Arts.
1996: “A Flash of Lightning”, sculpture exhibition, La Salle-SIA College of the Arts.
1998: “Wind of the Spirit”, retrospective exhibition, Singapore Art Museum.
2000: “Here to Infinity”, sculpture exhibition, Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore.
2003: “An Invitation to Nature”, exhibition of paintings and sculptures, Office of Public Works, Dublin.

Awards32
1946: First Prize, Festival of Limerick, Ireland.
1990: Public Service Medal, Singapore.
1994: Honorary Doctor of Arts, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.
1995: Honorary Doctor of Laws, National University of Ireland.
1996: Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.
1997: Meritorious Service Medal, Singapore
1998: Montblanc de la Culture Award.
2000: Honorary Doctorate of Management, Indonesia.
2000: Honorary Award, National College of Art and Design, Ireland.

Family33
Father: Thomas McNally.
Mother: Bridget Mannion.
Siblings: Brothers, James and Aidan, and sisters, Bridget and Teresa. 



Authors

Sharon Teng & Gracie Lee



References
1. “British with an Artistic Talent,” The Irish Times, 7 September 2002; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:48, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), ii, 8; Bridget Tracy Tan, ed., Wind of the Spirit: A Retrospective Exhibition of Brother Joseph McNally (Singapore: National Arts Council and National Heritage Board, 1998), 15. (Call no. RSING 730.95957 MAC)
2. Jane Lee, “Artist and Educator Joseph McNally Dies,” Straits Times, 28 August 2002, 3; Suhaila Sulaiman, “Saying Goodbye to the Man Who Couldn’t,” Straits Times, 8 September 2002, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Suhaila Sulaiman, “McNally’s Mark,” Straits Times, 1 September 2002, 34 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 98, 101.
4. Kana Shekaran, “Nature’s Inspiration,” Straits Times, 8 November 1992, 4; Irene Pates, “A Study of Ireland,” Straits Times, 16 December 1985, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:44, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 13.
5. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:21, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 22–31; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:57, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 32–35, 41–42; Shekaran, Nature’s Inspiration”; Pates, “A Study of Ireland”; McNally Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally: An Invitation to Nature (Singapore: National Arts Council and National Heritage Board, 2003), 8–14. (Call no. RSING 730.95957 MAC)
6. Shekaran, Nature’s Inspiration”; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 9 January 1997, 37–40; Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 16.
7. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 9 January 1997, 38; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:30, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 43–47; Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 8–9.
8. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 16.
9. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 16; Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 53; Vincent Corkery, Brother Joseph McNally fsc 1323–2002: Educator – Painter – Sculptor – La Salle Brother (Ipoh: La Salle Centre, St. Michael’s Institution, 2002), 9–14. (Call no. RSING 266.25957 COR)
10. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 9 January 1997, 38–39; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, 45–55; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 9 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:52, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 56, 65; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:17, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 67–69.
11. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 January 1997, 69–75; Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 53.
12. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:31, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 80–83; Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 53, 55.
13. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 17, 97, 100; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:04, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 99–100; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 January 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:10, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 104–13.
14. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 10 January 1997, 86–87; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 6 February 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:15, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 118–19, 126; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 6 February 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:08, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 132–38; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 6 February 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 31:08, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 139–42, 144–49.
15. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 6 February 1997, 142.
16.
Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 6 February 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:50, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 151–56.
17. “Brother McNally Retires as St Pat’s Principal,” Straits Times, 31 May 1982, 21; June Tan, “Bold, Open and Expressive,” Straits Times, 12 June 1984, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Corkery, Brother Joseph McNally fsc 1323–2002, 24–32.
18. “Brother McNally to Head Art Scheme,” Straits Times, 7 August 1983, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 7; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 April 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:47, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 179–80, 183–87; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 April 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:12, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 188–99.
19. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 96.
20. Ho Ai Li, “New Road Named after LaSalle’s Late Founder,” Straits Times, 14 July 2007, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview by Bonny Tan, 10 April 1997, transcript and MP3 audio 30:30, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001876), 166–76; Joseph McNally (Brother), oral history interview, 10 April 1997, 177–78; Jacqueline Wong, “$250M Proposal to Promote Visual Arts,” Straits Times, 24 November 1988, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Yeo Seng Teck, Committee on Visual Arts (Advisory Council on Culture & the Arts) Report, November 1988 (Singapore: Committee on Visual Arts, 1988), Annex A, 1 (Call no. RCLOS 700.95957 SIN); Ong Teng Cheong, Report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts (Singapore: Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts, 1989), 48 (Call no. q700.95957 SIN); “New Arts Task Force Formed,” Straits Times, 30 November 1990, 26 (From NewspaperSG); National Arts Council, Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: National Arts Council, 1992), 4. (Call no. RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
22. Singapore, Government Gazette, G. N. 2915 (Singapore: [s.n.], 1990), 6677 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SGG); Singapore, Government Gazette, G. N. 2760 (Singapore: [s.n.], 1997), 5095. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SGG)
23. Sulaiman, “McNally’s Mark.” 
24. Parvathi Narayan, “Amazing Grace,” Business Times, 14 November 1998, 23 (From NewspaperSG); Joseph, Brother Joseph McNally, 9.
25. Susie Wong, “Symbols of Life Point to Artist’s Religious Beliefs,” Straits Times, 11 October 1996, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
26. T. K. Sabapathy, “Man and Nature Merge, Sometimes Uneasily, in Brother McNally’s Art,” Straits Times, 4 November 1994, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, verso page.
28. Joseph McNally, Agonising Form, art work, 1973, National Gallery Singapore Collection.
29. Ho, “New Road Named after LaSalle’s Late Founder.”
30. Mayo Martin,  “State of the Arts,” Today, 30 August 2014, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 101–02; Joseph McNally, “A Flash of Lighting”: Recent Sculpture: Brother Joseph McNally, Dr. Earl Lu Gallery, 3–20 October 1996, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore (Singapore: Visual Arts Management, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, 1996), unpaged (Call no. RSING 730.95957 MAC); “Brother Joseph McNally’s Works,” National Arts Council, accessed 18 August 2016. 
32. Tan, Wind of the Spirit, 102; McNally, “Flash of Lighting”, unpaged; National Arts Council, ‘Brother Joseph McNally’s Works.”
33. Corkery, Brother Joseph McNally fsc 1323–2002, 1; Serene Luo, “Art and Music Run in the McNally Clan,” Straits Times, 28 May 2009, 53; Shekaran, “Nature’s Inspiration.” 



Further resources
Clara Chow, “McNally Works to Show in Dublin,” Straits Times, 19 March 2003, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

Clara Chow, “Thou Art Remembered,” Straits Times, 11 November 2002, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Clarissa Oon, “Brother, You’ve Got the Art of Teaching,” Straits Times, 14 November 1998, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Diane Charleson and Joseph McNally, Brother Joseph McNally: A Retrospective, LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, n.d., videocassette. (Call no. RSING 730.92 BRO)

 ‘Engrossed’ in Work,” Straits Times, 11 November 2002, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Mary Strang, Brother Joseph McNally (Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia, 2012). (Call no. JRSING 730.92 STR)

Moving Visuals Co., Self Portraits: Brother Joseph McNally, MediaCorp TV 12, n.d., videocassette. (Call no. RSING 738.092 SEL)

Neo Hui Min, “S’pore, Ireland Pay Tribute to Educator and Sculptor,” Straits Times, 21 September 2004, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

Parvathi Nayar, “Moving On, with Passion,” Business Times, 31 August 2002, 15. (From NewspaperSG)

PM Pays Tribute to Brother McNally,” Straits Times, 7 September 2002, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

Sinead Creaner, ed., An Artist’s Legacy: Brother Joseph McNally’s Masterpieces (S.l.: s.n., 2015). (Call no. RART 730.95957 MAC)

Sonny Lim and Television Corporation of Singapore, In Conversation (8.12.96): Episode 31 Brother Joseph McNally, Television Corporation of Singapore, 1996, videocassette. (Call no. RSING 080.95957 IN)

Soobin Art Gallery, Here to Infinity: Brother Joseph McNally, 17 November – 3 December 2000 (Singapore: Soobin Art Gallery, 2000). (Call no. RSING 730.95957 MAC)

Susan Tsang, “Working Out His Artistic Impulses,” Business Times, 21 March 1998, 23. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Community leaders
McNally, John Joseph, 1923-2002
Arts>>Sculpture
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Arts
Educators--singapore--Biography
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
Arts