Torture & Talent Have Shaped His Life: The Ronald McDowell Story

Standing in the gallery where is art was displayed during the extravaganza supported by Beyonce

To see Dr. Ronald McDowell today, you would never guess that he was tormented as a child. His extraordinary artistry surfaced when he was only 11 months old and he suffered for being gifted. His brothers punched him with the intention of teaching him how to fight. Teachers beat his hands to stop him from drawing. Neighborhood children bullied him. Back then his remarkable artistic ability was the cause of tremendous pain. It also became his escape.

He withdrew into a world quite different than his reality. In this new world, he had friends and they were kind to him. These friends existed first in his mind and then on paper. For years, his only friends were images he drew to substitute for the playmates he yearned to have.  Over the years, he perfected his artistic skills and became a master of almost every medium – illustrations, fine art paintings, montages and sculpting.

Born and raised in California, he moved to Tuskegee in 1986 and was so warmly embraced, he stayed. But no single place can contain an artist of his magnitude. And through his artworks, which encompass every medium, he is internationally esteemed.

He always loved Diana Ross and captured her on canvas when he worked at Motown

A few years after he settled in Tuskegee he was named Artist In Residence, a role created to give city leaders access to his creative genius for public art projects.  It was a wise move on their part.

As a pre-teen, Dr. McDowell created big-eyed characters he called B’Donnie art
When he sculpts a statue, the fine details are breathtaking.  Visiting The Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park, which features life-sized bronze figures sculpted by Dr. McDowell, is awe inspiring. The park, dedicated on October 16, 1999 is in downtown Birmingham on the site of the former Brock’s Drugs building.
Dr. McDowell artistically portrays *Eddie Kendrick crooning into a microphone accompanied by his fellow band members in The Temptations, perfectly synchronized in a performance pose.
He also created a statue in the historic Civil Rights District in Birmingham honoring the foot soldiers who in the 1960’s, were on the frontlines of the fight for freedom and justice. Dr. McDowell is blessed with an amazing ability to interpret a wide range of subjects using a variety of materials. He has painted portraits of almost every president at Tuskegee University, including Dr. Lily McNair who was inaugurated in 2019 after becoming the first woman president of this school. He also painted the portraits of every musician inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame where he is the Official Artist.
Ronald became personal friends with Michael Jackson when they were both young artists at the beginning of their respective careers

As an emerging artist, he worked at Motown in Los Angeles and crossed paths with all of the stars that worked for the record label including Michael Jackson. Michael asked Dr. McDowell to instruct him regarding art techniques and Dr. McDowell taught art lessons to Michael Jackson for 12 years. Also, Dr. McDowell was an art consultant to Michael Jackson on the “Thriller” album.

In 2006, he received an honorary doctorate from the University at West Alabama. He says it is both humbling and rewarding to receive the praise and accolades that have been showered on him. With more than 2,000 works of art, he has been called “The Michelangelo of This Generation” and he plans to continue creating even more art. His commissioned portraits become family heirlooms. He is also gifted as an abstract artist. And he is a master at montages, which blend multiple images into a single cohesive work of art. His montage of Motown stars captured the highest bid price at a 2014 Motown event.
His montage of Motown stars secured the highest bid price at a 2014 Motown event
A large crowd packed the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham for the unveiling of a history-making mural.
In 2014, Dr. McDowell created a stunning montage for the Motown Heroes and Legends Awards (HAL) Silver Anniversary.

In 2016, he joined the faculty at Tuskegee University after the school added an “A” for Art to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, making it the STEAM program. This world-class artist who is the best in the business is now enriching offerings at the university.

In 2018, a mural created by Dr. McDowell was unveiled in the Jefferson County Courthouse to counterbalance offensive artwork that has been on display since the 1930’s. Dr. McDowell’s mural visually communicates that racial progress has been made in Birmingham and surrounding communities. It depicts leadership that is shared by men, women and all ethnicities.

He bears no grudges and harbors no animosity towards the people who hurt him as a child. This is due to a gift that is equal to his artistic skills — the gift of forgiveness.

*Eddie “Kendrick” is the accurate spelling of the family name. At some point after he became an entertainer, an “s” was added to his last name and the world came to know to him as Eddie “Kendricks.”

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