John Charles Haley Biography

John Charles Haley




John Charles Haley, painter, muralist, sculptor, printmaker, teacher and collector, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 21, 1905. As a child he exhibited a keen aptitude for drawing and was encouraged into his teen years to pursue art, publishing comics in his high school newspaper. His earliest formal art studies began at the Minneapolis School of Fine Art in Saint Paul, studying traditional techniques and styles under Cameron Booth. This led to the commission of a portrait by and of lumber tycoon T. B. Walker, the founder of the Walker Art Center, who then nominated Haley for an Ethel Morrison VanDerlip fellowship to travel and study overseas upon graduation in 1927.

Haley embarked on his European visit that same year, accompanied by Booth. They traveled to Paris to visit various academic institutions, research contemporary art and artists, and to study with Andre Lhote. While there, they visited artist Vaclav Vytlacil, who had also taught at the Minneapolis School of Art. It was Vytlacil who recognized Haley's interest in Modernism and its various new offshoots, and encouraged him to study with German Expressionist Hans Hofmann, then teaching summer courses on the isle of Capri. Under Hofmann, both Booth and Haley were introduced in Cubism and after some time Booth returned to Minneapolis, to teach what he'd learned, while Haley stayed with Hofmann, following him to Munich to continue his studies. He would soon become one of Hofmann's most dedicated and outstanding students. This period clearly marked a major change in Haley's art, as he moved away from his conventional art roots into the burgeoning Modernist world. 

The following year Haley returned to the U.S., driving west to meet up with his longtime friend and sweetheart, Monica Pheres, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He then traveled up the coast and spent time with Vytlacil who was now teaching at the University of California, Berkeley - a momentous visit that cemented Haley’s desire to teach and to surround himself with Modernist artists. After marrying Pheres, herself an avid art enthusiast and later a collector, they settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1930 where Haley began his forty-two-year career as Professor of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

Along with Hofmann and Glenn Wessels, Haley is credited with putting into motion a sea-change at the University of California Berkeley, bringing it out of the shadows of traditionalist art values and greatly expanding its standing as a hub for Modernist artistic study. On the heels of a hot debate regarding UC Berkeley's place in the American art world, Haley stated his position explicitly: “There is no quarrel between modern and classic art...Modern tradition expressing itself in a new way.” In the meantime, he continued his personal pursuit of creative expression and in 1931 he was invited to exhibit in the group show The Complete Development of Modern Painting: from Manet to Hofmann at Mills College in Oakland. He received a warm critical reception that soon led to shows throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. 

In 1943, Haley was drafted into the U.S. Naval Reserve and served in France, Sicily, and the South Pacific. His artistic abilities became key to surveying the landscape and developing invasion strategies, and he was soon promoted to lieutenant. Haley was then stationed in Guam for a year before being honorably discharged in 1945. His return to the university was marked by a new style of abstract painting, likely informed by time his as a military artist, and he embarked on a period of exploration that took him to the American Southwest, finding inspiration in the strange and fascinating landscapes of the high desert. He continued to teach until his retirement in 1972.

In addition to teaching and art, Haley was a passionate collector and amassed a major selection of ethnic art, masks, and artifacts which inspired his sculptural work. He worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project was a member of and exhibited with the San Francisco Art Association and the California Watercolor Society. Haley’s work was included in numerous group exhibitions and solo exhibitions of his work were mounted at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Richmond Art Center, the University of California in Berkeley, and the de Young Memorial Museum. He garnered several awards for his work. 

The work of John Charles Haley is represented in the collections of the University of California Berkeley; California State University, Chico; the Monterey Museum of Art, California; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Oakland Museum of California Art; the de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco; the Huntington Library, Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino; and the National Gallery of Art, and the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

John Charles Haley died on November 10, 1991.

Selected Exhibitions:
1926: Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, MN
1931: Mills College Art Gallery, Oakland, CA
1935, 1937: San Francisco Museum of Fine Art, CA
1940: Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, CA; Riverside Museum, NY
1950: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
1955: San Paulo Biennial, Brazil
1960: Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA
1962: Worth Ryder Art Gallery, U.C. Berkeley
1963: California State University, Chico, CA; Museum of Modern Art, NY
1964: California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
1965: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
1967: University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
1974: Four Winds Gallery, Kalamazoo, MI
1975: Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport, CA
1980: M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
1988: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
1989: Jan Holloway Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1990: Richmond Museum, Richmond, VA
1995, 1996: George Krevsky Fine Art, San Francisco, CA
2002: Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA
2004: California Heritage Museum

1927: Ethel Morrison VanDerlip Fellowship
1936: San Francisco Art Association Purchase Prize
1938: Anne Bremmer Memorial Prize for "Roman Forum"