Juan José Calandria and Challis Walker Calandria
Juan José Calandria and Challis Walker Calandria were prominent painters, sculptors, art teachers, and diplomats in New Orleans in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Juan José Calandria and Challis Walker Calandria, both artists classically trained in Paris, were prominent painters, sculptors, art teachers, and diplomats in New Orleans for almost four decades in the latter half of the twentieth century. Their paintings and sculpture, though they differed in style, reflected their years in Paris and the changing influences in midcentury European and American art that began to take hold in New Orleans during those years.
Juan José Calandria, born December 12, 1902, in Canelones, Uruguay, first studied architecture at the Escuela de Artes Decorativos and the Escuela Industrial in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was there that he became interested in sculpture. By the time he was eighteen years old, he was exhibiting his sculpture and taking on private commissions. In 1921, he received Uruguay’s highest art scholarship, a four-year grant to study art abroad. His family thought he was too young and turned down the scholarship. In 1925, he was offered the scholarship again and this time he accepted it.
After traveling through Europe, in 1926 Calandria settled in Paris, where he remained for the next fourteen years, working under the guidance of famed French sculptors Antoine Bourdelle, Charles Despiau, and Marcel Gimond. He soon became Gimond’s assistant at the Academie Colarossi and held classes in his own studio. While there he met a young American art student, Challis Walker, who would later become his wife. In 1937, Calandria received the Gold Medal for Sculpture at the Paris Exhibition Internationale for his work exhibited in the Uruguayan pavilion. According to a 1980 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Calandria was showing his work in several Parisian galleries by 1939, including the Salons des Tuileries and Printemps, and the Exposition des Artistes Contemporains.
While Calandria was vacationing in Greece, World War II broke out in Europe, and in 1940 he sailed for New York City, where he remained a year, before returning to Uruguay in 1941 to be with his dying mother. Back in Paris, German troops seized fifty of his sculptures and paintings. Shortly after his mother’s death in 1941, he returned to New York and was appointed Uruguayan consul to New Orleans. Before assuming his duties in New Orleans, the artist-turned-diplomat married Challis Walker in New York. The couple would remain in New Orleans for the rest of their lives.
During his long art career, Calandria exhibited his paintings and sculpture in North and South America and in Europe. In 1937, Uruguay presented him the Gold Medal and Grand Prize at the Exposición Agropecuria y Industrial in Canelones. In 1957 he received the gold medal at the Montevideo Exhibition. Upon retiring from his consulate duties in 1958, Calandria devoted himself full time to his art and teaching. About the same time, his work, which had been described until then as impressionistic, increasingly became more abstract, perhaps a result of the postwar abstract expressionist movement. In 1964 he had a solo show at the New Orleans Museum of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art and the El Paso Museum of Art, among other museums and institutions in the United States, Europe, and Uruguay.
While pursuing his own art, Calandria also taught classes in painting and sculpture, first at the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans during World War II and then in the late 1950s, with his wife, at the Calandria School of Painting and Sculpture at Gallier Hall and at studios in their home on Jefferson Avenue in uptown New Orleans. His last major show was held in 1975 at the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. Plagued with arthritis in the final years of his life, Calandria died July 18, 1980.
Challis Walker, born November 18, 1912, in New York City, studied sculpture with the Lithuanian-born abstract sculptor William Zorach at the Art Students League of New York City from 1930 to 1933. In 1933 she moved to Paris, where she studied sculpture with Marcel Gimond at the Académie Colarossi. Walker remained in Paris for six years, during which time one of her sculptures was shown at the Salon des Tuileries. During those artistically thriving prewar years, she also wrote and illustrated a children’s book, Three and Three, about animals wishing they were other animals.
While in Paris, Walker met a fellow student/instructor and her future husband, Juan José Calandria. They were married in 1941 in New York before settling later that same year in New Orleans, where Juan had been appointed consul of Uruguay. A year before the wedding, Walker had her first New York show at the fashionable Georgette Passedoit Gallery. A review of the show in New York-based ARTnews magazine praised her work and its “imperviousness to the lure of the bandwagon.” The review went on to say her sculpture was “far from academic, on the other hand, but it has a serenity and steadiness of its own which give the impression that this artist will go ahead under her own power regardless of cross currents and fashionable trends.”
In New Orleans, Challis turned more to painting the landscapes and portraits for which she received considerable recognition. In 1941, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Houston Museum of Art mounted a joint exhibition by Challis and her husband. In 1964, the Downtown Gallery in New Orleans featured Challis’s work in a solo show. Her commissioned portraits of judges and educators can be seen in the civil, federal, and state Supreme Court buildings in New Orleans; the Tulane University schools of law and engineering; the Isidore Newman and Marion Abramson schools in New Orleans; and the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. Her portrait of Archbishop Philip Hannan is on permanent display at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.
During her long career in New Orleans, Challis Walker Calandria received numerous awards, including first prize in sculpture from the Delgado Museum Art (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) in 1945, as well as numerous awards from the New Orleans Art Association. In 1966, she received a third place award and an honorable mention at the Sears Contemporary Southern Art Show.
According to her son, Andres Calandria of New Orleans and Kiln, Mississippi, “Challis Walker Calandria was equally at home as a sculptor, portrait and fine arts painter, and teacher.” She died in New Orleans on February 12, 2000.