Midway through a very productive career that had seen her combating sexism and working hard to find her own voice, Corrie Parker McCallum made this statement in 1976: “I am against the isolation of art groupings such as ‘black art’ exhibitions or ‘women artists.’ What’s wrong with variety? . . . The uniqueness of the individual is most important.” As the wife of the acclaimed modernist William Halsey and the mother of three children, McCallum knew what it took to carve out a professional identity that transcended race, gender, and domestic roles. A fierce determination to chart her own course—as woman, creator, spouse, and parent—defined both her personal life and artistic trajectory.
A native of Sumter, McCallum enrolled at the nearby University of South Carolina in 1932; three years later, she received a certificate in Fine Arts. She chafed against the conservative curriculum, which did not allow drawing from nude models. It was there that she met Halsey, who soon left to attend the prestigious School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she eventually joined him. After earning a scholarship at the school for two years of study, she married Halsey in 1939. McCallum retained her maiden name, an unusual step at the time, subsequently explaining: “I kept my name because I did not want to get mixed up with who was what.”
When Halsey was awarded a fellowship to study abroad that same year, war was raging in Europe. The pair’s decision to travel instead to Mexico was a fortuitous choice, liberating them from the old masters and inviting them to embrace a less familiar culture. During World War II, the young couple lived in Savannah, where McCallum worked at the Telfair Academy. When they returned to Charleston in 1945, she became a part-time instructor for youth art classes at the Gibbes Art Gallery until 1953, when she, Halsey, and sculptor Willard Hirsch established the Charleston Art School.
Much of McCallum’s work from the 1940s resembles that of her husband, as exemplified by the compressed space and reliance on geometric shapes seen in these two examples. Beginning in the late 1950s, McCallum developed a talent for printmaking. She became proficient in woodblock and linoleum prints, lithography, and monotypes. While Charleston had been the primary inspiration for her early work, her horizons were broadened by extensive travel, generally alone, to such far-flung places as Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Morocco, Portugal, Cambodia, and Thailand. McCallum and Halsey collaborated on the 1971 publication of A Travel Sketchbook, which reproduced drawings from their journeys and juxtaposed the talents of each artist.
Ever energetic, from 1959 to 1968, McCallum was Curator of Art Education at the Gibbes Art Gallery, a position that called her to give presentations in art appreciation at area schools, art instruction being absent from the district’s curriculum. From 1971 through 1979, she continued her teaching career in the studio art department at the College of Charleston. After decades of making distinctive art, teaching all ages, and supporting community causes, in 2003 Corrie McCallum received South Carolina’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for lifetime achievement, an honor named for another strong Charleston female artist.