Burton Callicott’s Mid-South Allegory

Three of the largest objects in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum’s collection are Burton Callicott’s Hernando De Soto murals in the mansion lobby. Callicott painted these murals in 1934 as part of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project. In 1936, he competed for one other Works Progress Administration mural to be placed in the federal courthouse in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He titled his entry Mid-South Allegory.

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In this painting, Callicott shows his views on social values and racial equality. The middle black figure picks the cotton that the central white figure processes into cottonseed oil. The two men in the upper portion are both engaged in bringing the crop to market. Artist Ray Kass argues in Burton Callicott: A Retrospective that the painting gives equal emphasis to the contributions of white and black Southerners in the development of the region’s main crop. Additionally, the symbolic figures at the bottom of the painting are meant to represent the martyrs of the historic South, a rebel soldier and a slave.

Regarding a similar piece from the same period, Callicott remembered that he “wanted to express the socialist sentiments I felt at the time, and to give credit for the social goods of agriculture to labor, which Tennessee owed so much to the contribution of blacks…” The selection committee rejected the painting and choose one titled Vicksburg—Its Character and Industries by Henriette Amiard Oberteuffer as the winner. Unlike Callicott’s painting, Oberteuffer’s work shows clear racial segregation. Since Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a bastion of Jim Crow segregation, it is reasonable to suspect that Callicott’s social commentary was too extreme for the selection committee. He was, however, chosen to install Oberteuffer’s mural.

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Baird and Allison Callicott donated the painting to the Pink Palace in 2004, and it is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Information for this post came from Burton Callicott: A Retrospective by Ray Kass, pg. 15-8.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

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Carroll Cloar

Carroll Cloar was one of the most famous artists to call Memphis home. He was a Realist painter whose works occasionally took on a Surrealist slant. One of his most well-known paintings is My Father is as Big as a Tree, which is owned by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. His paintings are in public and private art collections throughout the country. The Pink Palace Museum has several of his preliminary sketches as well as his army uniform and two of his cameras in our collection.

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Cloar was born in Earle, Arkansas in 1913 to a farming family. He moved to Memphis in 1930 to attend Southwestern (now Rhodes College) and study English. After graduation, he traveled around Europe before returning to Memphis to study at Florence McIntyre’s Memphis Academy of Art on Adams Avenue. He followed George Oberteuffer to a new school on Front Street before going to New York in 1936 to continue his studies. He did a series of lithographs based on his hometown, which earned him a fellowship to travel the western United States and Mexico.

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In 1940, Cloar joined the Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific theater as a radio operator. He also painted the noses of bomber planes in his spare time. After the war, he won a Guggenheim fellowship and travelled throughout Latin America and Europe before moving back to the Bluff City permanently in 1955. He bought a house on 235 S Greer, just to the east of the Pink Palace Museum.

Cloar based many of his works on his memories and photographs of the Mississippi Delta where he grew up. Marilyn Masler, registrar at the Brooks Museum of Art, wrote, “…his interpretation of these people, places, and incidents represents a distillation of his personal Arkansas boyhood experiences in the early twentieth century.” Carroll Cloar died in 1993 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest after a four year battle with cancer. Three years later, the site of his home and studio was subdivided and the new street was named Cloar Cove.

Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.

Information for this post came from Memphis Magazine, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, and the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.

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