At the memorial service last month for Noah MacMillan, his mother, Lucinda Leach, told a funny story. As a boy, her oldest son had struggled with learning to write legibly. Whenever he tried to form letters, his hand would cramp up. But ask him to draw and Noah could sketch all day long, his pencil arcing over the paper, transforming it into whatever he imagined.
Noah became a professional illustrator, his work appearing in magazines and on murals the world over.
“He was a lifelong devotee of art,” said Noah’s father, Jeffrey MacMillan. “He just took to it at a very young age.”
It probably didn’t hurt that both his parents are visually oriented: Lucinda an art teacher, Jeffrey a photographer.
On July 31, Noah died of colon cancer in the Takoma Park, Md., home he grew up in. He was 33. Last week, the U.S. Postal Service announced that a stamp featuring one of his illustrations will be released next year. It celebrates Noah’s other love: soccer.
“He had two great passions,” said Jeffrey. “One was soccer and one was art. And so he literally found a college that had a soccer summer camp, then an art program.”
That was Washington University in St. Louis. Between his junior and senior years at the Edmund Burke School in the District, Noah attended the soccer camp, then went to the camp for talented high school artists. As an undergrad at Washington University, he majored in communication design.
In the hopes of encouraging other young artists like Noah was, his family has created a scholarship in his honor to support students in the summer art program at Washington University. Proceeds from the sale of his prints will help fund the Noah Philip MacMillan Portfolio Plus Scholarship. (You can find his work here.)
Noah’s talent emerged early and kept growing. Through what Jeffrey calls a “weird serendipity,” someone at Smithsonian magazine saw Noah’s college thesis just as the publication was planning a story on creativity. The drawings seemed to embody the theme of the story and the magazine published them.
“I'm a professional photographer,” Jeffrey said. “Jesus, I've been trying to get into Smithsonian magazine for 50 years. This kid stumbles out of school and gets his whole portfolio in there.”
Noah’s illustrations appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sports Illustrated and Howler magazine. A devoted Arsenal fan, Noah also did work for the LA Galaxy soccer club when he lived in Los Angeles.
Art director Antonio Alcalá of Studio A in Alexandria, Va., approached Noah to create the artwork for the women’s soccer stamp, providing photos he’d taken of his then 21-year-old daughter, Maya, kicking a ball.
The finished stamp — a female figure striking the ball with her right foot, her ponytail flying — hums with energy.
Noah knew the stamp had been approved, but had to keep mum about it. The stamp’s official announcement was made Oct. 24. It will be released in 2023.
“It’s really a shame that Noah can’t be here to see what a warm reception the stamp has received so far,” Antonio said.
“I love the idea of millions of pieces of his art flying around the country,” Jeffrey said. “I just love that image, to keep him aloft, so to speak.”
In addition to his parents, Jeffrey and Lucinda, Noah’s survivors include his younger twin brothers, Seth and Julian, and his fiancee, Hitomi Inoue.
“He had a great, very Zen outlook till the very end, just very positive and always grateful and always thanking us for everything,” Jeffrey said. “Most normal people, including me, would be very angry and bitter. He was just very Zenlike about the whole thing.”
And Noah never stopped doing what he loved and what he was so good at. On the day Noah died, Jeffrey asked if he could borrow his iPad, one of the tools his son used for drawing.
“He said, ‘Not today, Dad. I’m on deadline.’ ”
In the 1950s, Southwest Washington was almost urban renewed out of existence, but one element remains, even as it has undergone its own changes. That’s the Randall School at 65 I St. SW. Opened in 1906 as Cardozo Elementary, it was renamed in 1924 in honor of Eliza G. Randall, who came to the District to help set up schools for formerly enslaved people during and after the Civil War. Among the attendees of Randall Junior High: singer Marvin Gaye.
The renovated school building has become the Rubell Museum DC, a gallery of contemporary art. The DC History Center wants to collect and preserve memories of its time as a school. It is inviting anyone with a connection to the school to gather for community meetings on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and again from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16. The meetings will be at the Southwest Library, 900 Wesley Place SW. If you plan to attend, email Maggie Downing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizers are looking for photos, yearbooks and other Randalliana. The stories DC History gathers will be incorporated into a display in the courtyard of the former school building.