Corrie Parker McCallum was born in Sumter, South Carolina in 1914. After high school, she enrolled in the art program at the University of South Carolina where she earned a fine arts certificate and met Charleston native, William Halsey. During McCallum’s final year at USC, she had a brief career as a medical illustrator, though she gave it up to explore more creative options for a professional artist. Following graduation she took a year-long position working as a gallery director for a WPA/Federal Art Project gallery in Columbia. When her appointment came to a close, she reunited with Halsey in Boston where both continued their educations at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Soon after the reunion, the couple married and traveled together to Mexico on a fellowship. The vibrant colors and textures of the Mexican landscape, architecture, and art inspired her and the experience cultivated a life long interest in travel.
Returning to the United States in 1940, the couple lived for a brief time with Halsey’s family in Charleston, moved to Savannah (where McCallum taught at the Telfair Academy), and finally resettled in Charleston to raise their three children. McCallum painted many street scenes of Charleston during this time. She favored the down trodden areas of the city and the absence of people in these scenes may be a reflection of her own loneliness in a new city. In 1960 McCallum accepted a position as the first Curator of Art Education at the Gibbes Art Gallery (now the Gibbes Museum of Art). As an art educator, McCallum continuously explored new techniques and mediums. She enjoyed printmaking and experimented with its many forms throughout the 1960s.
In 1968 McCallum was awarded a grant to travel the world. She eagerly accepted and visited such exotic locales as Bali, India, Cambodia, Korea and Iran, among others. This trip inspired a myriad of relief prints, mostly done in black and white. Shortly after returning she joined the faculty of the art department at the College of Charleston, a position she held until 1979.
As McCallum and Halsey grew older, their productivity greatly increased. McCallum, free of the responsibilities of motherhood, was able to fully dedicate herself to her art. Continually evolving, McCallum’s later work is much more tactile and abstract than her earlier efforts. Her entire career is characterized by the desire to master a variety of media and to convey a variety of experiences, and her work often defies classification because it is so versatile. In 1994, The Gibbes Museum held a retrospective of McCallum’s long and accomplished career.
Artist Spotlight: Corrie McCallum (American, 1914–2009)
Our current exhibition, Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art, features over 30 groundbreaking women artists, each with their own compelling story and artistic vision. Included among this group is Charleston’s own Corrie McCallum. Throughout her long and productive career, McCallum was a fixture in the Charleston art community. As a result, the Gibbes collection includes many of her works, a selection of which are featured above.
McCallum was born in Sumter, South Carolina in 1914. She attended the University of South Carolina and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Following an extended period of study in Mexico with her husband, fellow artist William Halsey (American, 1915–1999), McCallum and her family settled in Charleston in 1942. Though she chose to live in Charleston, McCallum stayed current with the New York art scene. She followed the development of Abstract Expressionism and incorporated the style into her work, as demonstrated by paintings such as View of Toledo and Boats of Nazare that feature gestural brushwork and reduction of forms.
Under the guidance of Corrie McCallum, the Gibbes created and conducted the first comprehensive art appreciation program for Charleston County public school students.
In addition to her vast body of work, McCallum made significant contributions to the Charleston art community as an educator. She held education positions at several institutions, including the Telfair Museum of Art, Gibbes Museum of Art, College of Charleston, and Newberry College, and throughout her life remained an outspoken advocate for the visual arts.
McCallum’s painting View of Toledo will remain on view in Breaking Down Barriers through January 8, 2012—don’t miss this great exhibition! Have you already seen Breaking Down Barriers? Leave a comment here to share your experience with us.
—Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art