An accomplished painter, illustrator, sculptor and jewelry designer, McClelland Barclay had developed a very successful art career by the time he became a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in 1938. Barclay was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1891 and received his education at several different art schools. At the St. Louis Museum of Fine Arts (now the School of Art, Washington University in St. Louis) he studied design with the energetic Halsey Cooley Ives, the founding director of that institution. At the Art Students League in New York, he studied figure drawing with George B. Bridgman and illustration with Thomas Fogarty, both highly regarded artists and lecturers. Barclay also spent time at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago.
He became an active member of the Art Students League, the Chicago Art Club, the Society of Illustrators, the Association of Arts and Industries, and the Artists Guild. His illustrations graced the covers of Ladies' Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and other well-known magazines. His images of fashionable women for General Motors' "Body by Fisher" advertising campaign made Barclay's work recognizable to virtually every magazine reader in the country. He also illustrated advertisements for Whitman's Chocolates, Texaco Oil, Camel and Chesterfield cigarettes. His reputation as a creator of stylish, striking women landed him one of the judging positions of the 1935 Miss America pageant. During the 1920s and 30s, Barclay also enjoyed success as a sculptor and as a designer of art deco costume jewelry.
Barclay's first connection with the Navy came during World War I when he was awarded the Navy Poster Prize by the Committee on National Preparedness, 1917, for his poster "Fill the Breach." The following year, he worked on Naval camouflage under William Andrew Mackay, Chief of the New York District Emergency Fleet Corporation. He renewed his naval connection on 13 June 1938, when he was appointed Assistant Naval Constructor with the rank of Lieutenant, USNR. In mid-1940, Barclay prepared designs for experimental camouflage for different types of Navy combat aircraft. Evaluation tests, however, showed that pattern camouflage was of little, if any, use for the aircraft.
On 19 October 1940, Barclay reported for active duty. He served in the New York Recruiting Office, designing posters over the next two and a half years that would become some of the Navy's most popular recruiting images of World War II. With the entrance of the United States into the war in 1941, he volunteered to become a combat artist. Though not accepted as a part of the official Combat Art Section, he fulfilled similar functions through the Recruiting Office.
LCDR Barclay made short tours of duty in both the Atlantic and the Pacific on the U.S.S. Arkansas(BB-33), U.S.S. Pennsylvania (BB-38), U.S.S. Honolulu (CL-48), and U.S.S. Maryland (BB-46). On 18 July 1943, Barclay was aboard LST-342 (Group 14, Flotilla 5) when it was torpedoed by Japanese submarine Ro-106 at 1:30 a.m. He had been on board since the first of the month, sketching and taking photographs, during which time LST-342 had been carrying ammunition and supplies to Rendova, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands from Guadalcanal. The torpedo struck the aft portion of the ship where officers and others, including Barclay, were berthed. The stern sank immediately. Barclay, along with most of the crew, perished. The bow of the LST remained afloat and was towed to a beach on the island of Ghavutu so that any useable equipment could be salvaged. Remains of the ship are still rusting there today. Barclay was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal, and entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal; the American Area Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
In 1944, McClelland Barclay was awarded the Art Directors Club Medal posthumously, "in recognition of his long and distinguished record in editorial illustration and advertising art and in honor of his devotion and meritorious service to his country as a commissioned officer of the United States Navy." As recently as 1995, the Society of Illustrators inducted Barclay into their Hall of Fame.