Cal Massey, an artist who created hundreds of paintings, illustrations and sculptures, died on Monday, June 10, 2019, at Virtua Marlton Hospital of pneumonia. He was 93.
He was a resident of Moorestown, N.J. He was born on Feb. 10, 1926, and grew up in Morton and later Darby Borough with his mother, Bessie Mayo Massey, and four siblings.
As a young man, Massey was a jazz pianist whose trio accompanied Aretha Franklin at a show in Philadelphia. As his brother, jazz trumpeter Bill Massey, led rehearsals, he once sketched John Coltrane.
His wife, Iris Massey, said he discovered his passion for art at the age of 4. After graduating from the Hussian School of Art, he worked for a number of comic book publishers, drawing mostly fiction and war stories.
As a comic book illustrator, he worked directly with Stan Lee of Marvel Comics years before Lee created Spider-Man, Thor, the X-Men and Black Panther. His early Marvel comics were for titles such as “Astonishing” and “Journey Into Mystery.”
Massey was known for his portraits showing African Americans through powerful images. Some of his most famous works include “Angel Heart” and the “Ashanti Woman.”
In the mid-1980s, Massey sculpted a bas-relief showing two French West Indian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, as part of the Statue of Liberty Foundation’s renovation project.
As a result of that work, the Olympic Committee hired him to be one of 13 artists to design commemorative medals for the 1996 Summer Games. His high jump design, featuring a young Black woman with knees bent, was the only commemorative medal for that Olympics to depict a Black person.
Massey designed the Patriots of African Descent Monument at Valley Forge, a commission by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. installed in 1993. The monument, which was sculpted by Phil Sumpter, is the only commemoration on federal property that pays tribute to the African patriots who served in the founding of the United States.
Massey designed more than 200 commemorative medals during his work with the Franklin Mint, including the mint’s first commemorative medal, that of Gen. Arthur MacArthur Jr.
He and his wife, now a retired graphics designer, high school art teacher and occupational therapist, met at a party where many artists were present. They were married for 56 years.
“He had a positive influence on many young artists who were starting out. He would give advice to so many people,” said his wife.
He was known for his work with George Beach, founder of Beach Advertising, to create a series of calendars showing African-American historical figures.
“As a young kid, I saw that calendar, which inspired me to become an artist,” recalled Ahmad A. Ahmad, the owner of Progressions Fine Arts.
Massey would later become his mentor.
“I was very close to Cal and I learned a lot from him over the years,” Ahmad said. “He was a prolific artist. He was very committed to illustrating African-American culture.”
Massey completed his last major artwork, a portrait of Temple University basketball coach John Chaney, about two years ago.
His work was displayed in places such as the Artjaz Gallery, Just Lookin Gallery and October Gallery.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by: daughters, Ruth and Lynda; a brother; a sister; and a grandson.
A private ceremony was held June 15 and a public memorial is being planned for later this year.