O.V. Shaffer has gotten up early and gone to the “office" (his sculpture studio) and each morning for more than 50 years. “Art is anything but relaxing,” he says. “It’s a profession that takes physical and mental energy.” Beginning the study of art in 1946 at Beloit College (BA Beloit College, 1950; MA Michigan State University, 1955), Shaffer’s career evolved from painter to educator (Asst. Professor of Art, Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan 1952-1954; Professor of Art, Beloit College 1955) to Director of the Wright Art Center at Beloit College. In 1959, Shaffer took a year-long leave of absence from Beloit College and traveled to Maine where he assisted Clark Fitz-Gerald with the construction of three large sculptures. This became the genesis for his decision in 1961 to give up his teaching position to embark on a solo art career as a sculptor.
As a student at Beloit College, Shaffer majored not only in art but also in biology and speech. He excelled at drawing and painting, and was an outstanding competitive wrestler. His broad range of study gave him a strong foundation from which his work developed. Shaffer loved working in three-dimensions and began experimenting with a welding torch, learning how to translate ideas into sculpture. “Metal and pen give way to endless shapes in the hand of this artist. Shaffer welds sculptures of boundless dimension, drawing upon man and nature for his subjects,” according to an exhibit review.
For many years, Shaffer sculpted in his rural Clinton, Wisconsin studio and now works from his studio in an old cow barn at his home in Princeton, Illinois. Most work is in metal (steel and sheet brass), welded or cast. He has also worked in wood mosaic and cast concrete, including a mural in concrete sculpture for the face of the UWM Union. Shaffer makes pieces out of melted metal by heating steel until it flows. “I like the idea of a flow. I like the idea of action or a coordinated event … I like to have a tension in the piece so there is some underlying current some latent, hawking energy … If my work doesn’t touch the head, the heart or the belly, then it wasn’t worth the try.”
Shaffer: “I limit myself to basic tools. I like to keep my work as close to my hands as possible.” He begins a work with a definite idea as to what it will eventually become, but allows the materials to influence and change his idea as he works. “My work does not concern itself with unusual materials or techniques. The purpose is simply to express a feeling, make a comment, ask a question or effect [sic] a thought. Style is of no concern to me. I want my work to be viewed from the inside out, in one big gulp.”
With an estimated 1200 pieces to his credit, Shaffer has exhibited throughout the Midwest and has major commissions in Maine, Florida and Utah as well as Wisconsin and Illinois. He won the Governor’s Award in the Arts (Wisconsin) in 1970.
O.V. Shaffer’s West Bend Resolve is installed as the entry piece to Riverside Park as part of the West Bend Riverfront Parkway Sculpture Walk.
Member, Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors / Artists in All Media
Founded the Prairie Arts Council
Served as panelist on the Wisconsin Arts Board
Â© 1/31/2008 Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend 6/2/2010