Burton Callicott

Burton Callicott

Burton Harry Callicott was a Theosophist from Memphis, Tennessee who incorporated Theosophical concepts into his paintings and drawings. His work has been described as “the relationship between nature and the human spirit, epitomized in the effects of light.”[1] Three of his paintings were donated by the artist and his family for the collection of the Theosophical Society in AmericaAntahkaranaMandorla, and Mandorla #12.

Early life and education

Callicott was born December 28, 1907 in Terre Haute, Indiana. When he was four years old, his family moved to Memphis. After graduation from the Cleveland School of Art in 1931, he returned to Memphis to teach in public schools. Like many Depression-era artists, he found temporary employment under a federal agency. The Federal Public Works of Art Program commissioned him to paint murals for the stairway of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. The exploration of the Mississippi River by Hernando de Soto was the subject of the murals.[2]

During this period, Callicott began working with his stepfather Michael Abt in the design of floats for the Memphis Cotton Carnival and Christmas parades. They shared this activity for 20 years beginning in 1932.

Personal life

Evelyne Baird married Burton Callicott in 1932, and they spent more than 60 years together. The couple had two children. Their small house in Memphis had an artist’s studio with north-facing skylight and rainbows hanging in the window.[3]

Involvement with Theosophy

Late in the 1950s, Callicott developed in interest in Theosophy. He joined the Theosophical Society in America in 1959 and became a life member,[4] For many years he participated in the Memphis Lodge activities, and he wrote articles for Theosophical periodicals. He considered himself to be mystically inclined, but not a mystic.[5]

Art and teaching

Callicott taught at the Memphis College of Art from 1937 to 1973, and then retained emeritus status until his death. According to a colleague, he was a well loved professor, with an open door and a gentle, receptive attitude toward students.[6]

Early in his career, Callicott painted naturalistic landscapes. He explored many media in his works, using charcoal, pastel, dry color pigments, oils, and glazes. Light contrasted with shadows, and light refracted into rainbows are frequent components of Callicott’s art. He prepared his own canvases, acetate stencils, and frames. His technique often involved many layers of transluent glazes, and he often had to restretch his canvas repeatedly.


Cover of Burton retrospective book. Image from TSA Archives.

The Memphis Academy of Art, now the Memphis College of Art, exhibited Callicott’s work in 1971. The artist had many exhibitions in Memphis and throughout the South.

In 1991, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art held a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work, curated by Patricia P. Bladon. Callicott was then 83 years old. Forty-works?? were exhibited and a beautiful exhibition catalog was issued. The cover shows a fragment of Callicott’s 1980 work, Moonrise Over Nauset Beach, which is executed in oil on canvas.

Later years

Mr. Callicott died on November 23, 2003.

Additional resources

  • “Burton Callicott (1907-2003)” by Elizabeth H. Moore. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Version 2.0. This biographical sketch of the artist is available at this site.
  • Callicott’s papers are in the Smithsonian Institution. See also Archives of American Art.
  • Slides of his works are available in the Smithsonian collection, and also at the Memphis College of Art.
  • A 30-minute video portrait of the artist called “Journeyman of Light” was created for the Memphis Art Gallery Association in 1991. It was produced by Jim Crosthwait to accompany an exhbition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of 73 pieces of art.
  • An online gallery of art works has been posted by Memphis Tech High School.
  • Burton Callicott and Veda Reed: Teacher and Student is a catalog of and exhibition held March 28 – Paril 27, 1996 at Tobey Gallery, Memphis College of Art.


  1. Jump up Fredric Koeppel, “A Life on Canvas:Callicott Reflects on Limitless Art Career,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 24, 1991.
  2. Jump up Ibid.
  3. Jump up Ibid.
  4. Jump up Membership database and microfilm records. Theosophical Society in America Archives. Callicott’s member ID number was 010810.
  5. Jump up Fredric Koeppel, “A Life on Canvas:Callicott Reflects on Limitless Art Career,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 24, 1991.
  6. Jump up Linda Disney, interview by Janet Kerschner._____, 2007. Theosophical Society in America Archives.

Burton Callicott

Line and Shadow: Estate Drawings

25 April – 19 May 2017
OPENING: Friday 28 April, 6-8pm

In late April David Lusk Gallery-Memphis presents never before exhibited drawings by renowned artist and educator Burton Callicott. The exhibition features lithographs, charcoal, and graphite works on paper ranging from the early sixties to late eighties.

In the mid-1930’s, after graduating from the Cleveland School of Art, Callicott began a lifelong interest in the depiction of light and shadow. Flattened perspectives and a nod towards Abstract Expressionism entered his work in the 1940’s after he became familiar with the work of Hans Hofmann, freeing him up to pursue the portrayal of light as a subject within itself.

The show’s title, “Line and Shadow”, speaks to the direct nature of each image. Teetering between representation and abstraction, negative and positive shapes fit together like singular puzzles to celebrate the stark contrast between light and shade.

Rarely seen, and never exhibited, Callicotts’s drawings and lithographs offer a view into the contemplative process of a search for beauty within the everyday. Opaque tree branches, geometric exteriors, and triangular shapes house the building blocks of an artist’s process, shedding light on the foundations that led to some of Callicott’s most successful paintings.

Devoid of color, the medium to small paper pieces that make up “Line and Shadow” also tell a story of age. Worn surfaces and subtle shifts in pigment adorn the delicate graphite and charcoal lines, meditating on the often-unnoticed relationship between surface and shadow. As Hans Hoffman said, “To sense the invisible and to be able to create it, that is art.”

Burton Callicott was a founding member of the Memphis College of Art in 1937, and was named Professor Emeritus in 1978. His work has been exhibited in numerous museums across the country. However, it is in Memphis where he built a large and devoted group of corporate and private collectors for his painstakingly created paintings.

David Lusk Gallery is located at 97 Tillman. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 10-5:30 and Saturday 11-4. For more information or visuals please contact Amelia Briggs at 901 767 3800 or amelia@davidluskgallery.com.

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