Declared by university scholars and museum directors to be one of Wisconsin's most important 20th century artists. John Colt's father, Arthur Colt, was the founder of Colt's School of Painting in Madison, Wisconsin; he also ran summer schools of painting in Black River Falls and Devil's Lake and was John's earliest exposure to art making. World War II intervened and he enlisted to serve as an electrician on a submarine in the U.S. Navy. In 1946 he returned to Madison to study art education at the University of Wisconsin and earned bachelor and master of art degrees. Later he taught crafts in Richland Center and Janesville, Wisconsin, spent a year teaching high school in Australia, and then joined the faculty of the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. In 1957 he became an art instructor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee where he spent the next 33 years until his retirement in 1990. A popular and talented professor of art, he believed in encouraging students to develop their unique forms of self expression.
Describing his own approach to creating art, he stated,” I’ve never been interested in the panoramic scene as much as I have the little areas - little realms of experience, nature close-up." He painted images of miniature land and sea creatures, dried fruits and vegetables; creating luminous effects and giving them an abstract quality with delicate lines and shapes. He found inspiration in his travels to the Oregon and California coasts, Mexico, the Bahamas and Haiti where he and his wife, artist Ruth Kajer, had a second home. During his tenure at UWM, he also spent time as visiting professor at the American University in Beirut and the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, Northern Michigan University in Marquette and Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
John Colt's work has been widely exhibited and is represented in numerous private and museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, the Milwaukee Art Museum, WI, the Wright Museum of Art, Beloit College, WI, Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, WI, Munson-Williams – Proctor Institute, Utica, NY, Grand Rapids Museum, MI, Le Centre D’Art, Port Au Prince, Haiti, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, Teatro Mario, Milwaukee, WI, Burpee Museum, Rockford, IL, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, WI and the UWM Art Museum Collection.