Alabama artist's work turns him into star at age 112

(excerpt from the Chicago Sun Times)

Frank Calloway, 112, draws murals on sheets of butcher paper, sometimes more than 30 feet long.
Story Highlights
Frank Calloway, 112, paints murals at a mental facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Calloway has been institutionalized since 1952 after a diagnosis of schizophrenia .  His work will be featured this fall at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore

July 21, 2008


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Bent over or sitting at a table, gripping a ballpoint pen, marker or crayon, Frank Calloway spends his days turning visions from his youth into lively murals — and at 112 years old, the images of his childhood are a window to another time.

Drawn on sheets of butcher paper and sometimes stretching to more than 30 feet long, the works mostly show rural agricultural scenes, with buildings, trains and vehicles straight out of the early 20th century. And his colorful creations are gaining more attention in the art world.

The works by a man who has lived about half his life in state mental health centers will be part of an exhibit this fall at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. His caretakers have suspended sales of his artwork until after the show after finding out some of his drawings could sell for thousands of dollars.

”They are unique in that they are of a rural, agrarian South, and they speak to a time gone by,” said Sara Anne Gibson, executive director of the Kentuck Museum in Northport, Ala.

Calloway views art as his job and sits at a table by a window drawing for seven to nine hours a day, usually wearing blue denim overalls and a crisp dress shirt, said Nedra Moncrief-Craig, director of Alice M. Kidd Nursing Facility, a state home where Calloway now lives.

”He draws all day long except for the time that he spends in activity and eating his meals,” Moncrief-Craig said. ”That’s what he loves to do.”

He was born on July 2, 1896, and has lived in mental health centers since 1952, when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Details about Calloway’s youth are few. He says he remembers growing up with brothers and, as a ”little, bitty, little boy,” playing under the quilts his mother made as if they were tents.

He has no known family left and there is no record of his ever being married.

He talks frequently about working hard and mentions laying railroad rails, cutting lumber, farming and working for a blacksmith, but there are no records of his life before he entered the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation system.

”I couldn’t get time to go to school much, stopped in the third grade reader, that’s all I could get, third grade reader,” Calloway said. ”A school teacher put me to drawing a long time ago, drawing pictures.”

Aside from the occasional drawing, his talent lay dormant until he took an art class in the 1980s and began to draw again.


(thanks to Bill Angrick and John Carroll for sending this to my attention)