James Joseph Childs (1945–2020)

Noted artist James Joseph Childs was born in Fargo, ND and later relocated to Minneapolis, MN. He was interested in art from an early age and earned a BFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1970, after spending his junior year abroad at Atelier 63 in Haarlem, the Netherlands. He admired the art of ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance and was dissatisfied with modern art education. In 1971 he became one of the first students of artist Richard F. Lack at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis. He studied there until 1975. Childs spent the summers of 1971-1973 studying imaginative painting in Williamstown, MA with Lack’s teacher, Robert Hale Ives Gammell. In the fall of 1974, he traveled to England and France with fellow students Thomas Mairs and Stephen Gjertson to study the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton and the French nineteenth century academic artists, particularly Jules-Élie Delaunay, Paul Baudry, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin.

Through Lack and Gammell Childs was trained in the French academic and Boston impressionist traditions. Throughout his career, his artistic intention was to be neither academic nor impressionist, but to use these influences to reanimate the classic point of view that he most admired in Greek art of the fifth century B.C., Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Frederic, Lord Leighton.

Childs was one of the finest draftsmen of his time. He was a staunch advocate of thorough artistic training and artwork that was personally expressive and beautiful. He painted still lifes and landscapes, but his primary interest was symbolic and allegorical figure painting, and he devoted most of his time to painting and drawing subjects that expressed his heroic view of man and the human figure.

From 1976 until his death Childs participated in over twenty solo and group exhibitions in venues that included the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Tatistcheff and Company in New York. In 1996, in conjunction with the centenary of the death of Frederic, Lord Leighton, he exhibited and worked at the Leighton House Museum in London. He exhibited his tribute to Greek culture, the sixteen-foot frieze, Ancient Contests: Modern Heroes in the foyer of the galleries of The Cultural Organization of the City of Athens during the Olympic games in August of 2004. In October of 2004 the entire frieze project was exhibited in the galleries of Forbes, Incorporated in New York. The frieze was shown at the Leighton House Museum during the 2012 London games.

Gérôme scholar Gerald Ackerman with James Childs and Stephen Gjertson in front of the Death of Orpheus by Émile Lévy, Musée d’Orsay 2005.

Childs painted murals in the Ceremonial Court of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. and the Adducci Chapel, Scottsdale, AR. His sculpture of Christ and exquisite decorative motives adorned the Chapel of the Glorified Cross, Church of Saint Odilia in Shoreview, MN.

After moving to New York in 1987, Childs became a well-respected portrait painter, working for patrons such as Leonée Ormond, Christopher Forbes, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Trump, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Tober, Ursula Corning, Civitella Ranieri, and Meera Gandhi. He also drew many fine portraits of friends and associates.

Throughout his career Childs was a passionate teacher of drawing and painting in the French Beaux-Arts and Boston impressionist traditions. He was also an excellent calligrapher, and taught calligraphy classes at the Minnesota Area Vocational-Technical Institute in Minneapolis from 1970 to 1981, as well teaching it to his atelier students. He taught with Thomas Mairs at the Childs – Mairs Studio in Saint Paul from 1975 to 1982. Childs taught at the National Academy of Design​ in New York from 1987 to 1996
. In 1994 he established the Drawing Academy of the Atlantic, a private atelier that he operated until 2015.

Childs’ work is represented in the collections of, among others, the Blanden Art Museum, Fort Dodge, IA, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

He enjoyed opera, musical theater, classic films, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and wry humor. He was very well read and liked to quote from great artists and authors. Some of his favorites were the ancient Greek philosophers, the sonnets of Michelangelo, the Academy Lectures of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Pictor Ignotus by Robert Browning, and the works of Marcel Proust. Childs died peacefully during March 2020 in his Brooklyn, New York apartment. His loss is deeply felt by those who knew him and admired and collected his art.


The Artistic Heritage, Credo, and Thoughts on Drawing of James Joseph Childs.