When the first-ever public exhibition of Solomon Guggenheim’s collection of non-objective art debuted at the Gibbes in 1936, it brought shock and dismay to some in Charleston’s art circle. The city’s famed etcher and Impressionist painter, Alfred Hutty, declared the exhibition was “Simply an expression on radicalism.” But for a young William Halsey, who left South Carolina and enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that same year, the exhibition represented the sort of radical art experience he was seeking.
Halsey returned to South Carolina six years later, and over the course of his lifetime achieved wide recognition as one of the premier artists of the South’s modernist movement. His early training included courses at the University of South Carolina but his style began to take shape after he moved to Boston. In 1939, a James William Paige fellowship allowed Halsey and his wife, South Carolina artist Corrie McCallum, to travel to Mexico. The two artists lived in Mexico City for eighteen months and toured the countryside drawing, painting and studying the work of Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera. When the couple returned to Charleston they taught at the Gibbes Museum of Art, and later opened their own school. Halsey helped establish the studio arts program at the College of Charleston, and worked as an assistant professor and artist-in-residence for nearly twenty years, actively influencing several generations of young artists.
Early in his career, Halsey created landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits in a bold modernist style; however, he is best known for his Abstract Expressionist works. Halsey experimented freely with different media and his work was often influenced by his travels. He and McCallum made many summer trips, venturing to the Yucatan, Guatemala, Honduras, Greece, Ecuador, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Several of his paintings, collages, and sculpture are the spotlight exhibition currently on view in Gallery H at the Gibbes through November 28, 2010.
—Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art
Angela Mack, Gibbes Museum Executive Director, will give a free lecture on Friday, September 24 at 6pm, in conjunction with the exhibition A Visual Legacy: the Halsey-McCallum Collection at the College of Charleston on view at the College of Charleston Library. Learn more about the exhibition and the event.