Alumni Stories

James McNally III

Diploma, Communication Design

Curator of Art, United States Army Heritage and Education Center
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

James McNally III

“In school, we were held to strict deadlines. The end product had to be of the absolute highest level of craftsmanship.” James McNally III , Curator of Art, United States Army Heritage and Education Center 1968 , The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Jim McNally is the Curator of Art at the United States Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Center makes historical materials available to support the Army, educate an international audience, and honor present and past soldiers. “I have the very best job, I get to interpret art and artifacts and find the humanity in these objects. I see each day how far these soldiers went to protect and defend our country,” he says. McNally adds that the stories are important to the history of this country and says that the center’s motto is “Telling the Army’s story, one Soldier at a time.”

McNally researches history to help tell the stories of war. “My job specialty is Soldier art. For the Korean War exhibit, I looked at drawings of soldiers completed during and after wartime. I then wrote the text, created the exhibition catalogue, completed the framing, and oversaw lighting and exhibit installation.”

McNally says that he learned about The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1966 thanks to his mother reading a newspaper article about art school scholarships. He’d taken art classes throughout elementary and high school at the Carnegie Museum Saturday Art Program, and was awarded a partial scholarship to study at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “My classes were taught by newspaper staff and illustrators. Our tools were a pencil and brush and a tube of Lamp Black watercolor paint. We sat for six hours on stools with no back support. It was very intense,” he says, mentioning that at time there were no computers and everything was done by hand.

He earned a Diploma in Communication Design in 1968 and after graduation became a U.S. Army photojournalist during his three-year enlistment. McNally spent over a year in Vietnam before returning to the United States to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Kutztown University in 1974.

He went on to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Painting & Drawing with a scholarship from Pratt Institute in 1976. His post-graduate work took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he studied Contemporary Art History and Criticism. McNally returned to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh as an instructor from 1980-82.

McNally was later recruited by the U.S. Army War College to work as a photographer/multi-media specialist—a position he held for 25 years before starting his position as Curator of Art at the Heritage and Education Center. He’s been a curator for over 15 years. “I have met four Presidents, Chiefs of Staff of the Army, and other high ranking officials in the government and military—not to mention thousands of Soldiers,” he states.

McNally says that when he was a student, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh faculty treated him like a young professional and trained him to meet tight deadlines. “The end product had to be of the absolute highest level of craftsmanship,” he adds. McNally mentions that teamwork was a big part of his learning experience. “Grades did not matter; our accomplishment was based on the question: ‘Is this professional enough to produce in a magazine? Is it ready for press or not?’ The standard was very high.”

He encourages current students to remain focused on achieving their goals. “When things get tough, get tougher, trust your intuition, be even more creative, do your duty, believe in what you are doing and fall in love with your craft,” he states. He takes that mantra into his daily work, where each project feels like a new start. “We begin with an idea and go from there. Different art, different ideas, and new people—it is amazing to be part of the process.”

McNally showcased his patriotism after 9/11, when he went to the Pentagon to put on an exhibit of the United States Army in the rebuilt areas of the facility. It is still on display and showcases over 4,000 pieces of art and artifacts. “I dedicated myself for two months, working 16 hour days every day of the week until it was done.” He’s also done exhibit work for the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C.

In addition to his work as a curator, McNally exhibits his own paintings and drawings—recently at the Governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He’s also proud to add that he met his beautiful wife of almost 50 years, Taygety, while the two were students at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Picture- Jim McNally III (1968, Diploma, Communication Design, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh) is holding a hand colored original lithograph by the artist, Carl Nebel. The subject matter is the Mexican American War of 1846.