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 William Melton Halsey  (1915 - 1999)

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Lived/Active: South Carolina      Known for: modernist-leaning landscape painting, collage, sculpture

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William Melton Halsey
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Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:

As evidenced by a remarkable career that evolved over six decades, William Halsey was one of South Carolina’s foremost twentieth century modernists, well known for his vibrant paintings, collages, and sculptures.  Born and raised in Charleston, he received early instruction from Elizabeth O’Neill Verner and Edward I. R. Jennings.  He spent two years at the University of South Carolina before leaving to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1935 to 1939. The recipient of a prestigious Paige Fellowship, Halsey and his wife Corrie McCallum traveled to Mexico for further study following graduation. This experience made him a regular traveler and influenced his art in both subtle and dramatic ways over the course of his career.

Halsey built his artistic reputation in the 1940s and 1950s by exhibiting regionally and nationally. It was during these years that Halsey met New York gallery owner Bertha Schaefer, who represented him in group and one-man exhibitions from 1948 to 1953. He received promising critical recognition in Art News, the New York Times, and other publications for this work.

Halsey painted landscapes, cityscapes, still life, portraits, and figures in a graphic style, derived from a post-cubist tradition of exploring nature and abstraction in color, lines, and forms. His art later developed a personal, painterly expressionism, often characterized by bold coloring, abstracted forms, and varied materials and motifs.

Halsey remained an eminent and influential art teacher in the Low Country, beginning with his early activity at Savannah’s Telfair Academy and continuing at the Gibbes from 1945 to 1953.  He subsequently co-founded the Charleston Art School with his wife, Corrie McCallum, and Willard Hirsch in 1953.  From 1965 until his retirement in 1984, he taught at the College of Charleston and was instrumental in developing the studio art department there. The Halsey Gallery and Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art are named in his honor.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

Biography from Carolina Galleries - Southern Art:
William Halsey was born in Charleston in 1915. He was initially a student of Elizabeth O’Neill Verner and Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, but also studied at the University of South Carolina and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which awarded him a Paige Traveling Fellowship in 1939-41.

Halsey’s career would eventually span a period of over 60 years. He was a member of the American Crafts Council, Guild of South Carolina Artists, & Southern States Art League. Described in a 1970’s publication as the “Dean of contemporary art in South Carolina”, he continued to evolve in his art, working actively until shortly before his death in 1999.

Halsey has also been described as a pioneer of Abstract Painting in the South and a nationally recognized talent. Using bold calligraphic brushstrokes, applied texture, and a complex layering of color, his work in intended to achieve a final, elegant simplicity.

Agnes Scott College Berkshire Museum Chicago Arts Club Gibbes Museum of Art Mint Museum Norfolk Museum of Arts & Sciences Pasadena Art Institute Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Telfair Academy University of GeorgiaPublic Collections: Baltimore Museum of Art Gibbes Museum of Art Greenville County Museum of Art Mint Museum Telfair Museum

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, William Halsey broke away from the conventions of most local painters to become a pioneer of modern art in the South. As a boy growing up during the heyday of the Charleston’s early twentieth century artistic renaissance, Halsey’s first art lessons were with one of that movement’s leaders, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. Following two years at the University of South Carolina, Halsey pursued further artistic training at the school of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There, he studied traditional line drawing with Alexander Iacovleff and color theory with Karl Zerbe. In 1939, Halsey was awarded the school’s highest honor, the James William Paige Fellowship, for study abroad. Originally scheduled to travel to Europe with his new wife, fellow artist Corrie McCallum, the onset of World War II necessitated a change of plans. The couple set sail for Mexico instead, an experience that ignited a lifelong passion for travel. In Mexico City, Halsey absorbed the culture, color and texture of the country.

Halsey returned to the American South in 1941 and settled permanently in Charleston in 1945, convinced he “could be vastly more useful in [his] native state than any place else.” He touched countless students as a teacher at the Gibbes Art Gallery, Charleston School of Art and as the founder of the Studio Art Department at the College of Charleston. During his more than forty years as an educator and mentor, he was also represented by a gallery in New York City and exhibited his increasingly abstract expressionist paintings, collages and sculpture throughout the country. Although Halsey departed from “the prevailing influence of the Old Charleston picturesque,” he credited his hometown as a source of inspiration: the decaying stucco buildings literally showed up in his paintings, collages, and sculptures. He painted “furiously” on canvases built up with gesso, sand, and marble dust, found objects and fabric. Though he prized color above all else, he also appreciated the physical act of painting and often laid a painting flat on the ground in order to free his movements.

During his lifetime, Halsey’s works were included in exhibitions at such noted institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, and National Academy of Design. He is represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including High Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gibbes Museum of Art, and Greenville County Museum of Art.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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