PRINCETON — One of Princeton’s artists, O.V. (Verne) Shaffer has been selected as the fifth recipient of Prairie Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award.
The award recognizes and honors special people in the community who have made important contributions in the arts.
Shaffer was born and raised in Princeton during the 1930s. As a boy, when comics were just making an appearance in pop culture, Shaffer loved to draw and create his own superheroes. He also found a passion in building model airplanes, which he often purchased for 10 cents and got together with friends for constructing.
“I always had an interest in architecture, and the plans of the airplane often talked about the architecture of the plane and how it was made,” he said.
After high school, he began his study of art in 1946 at Beloit College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He later earned his master’s degree at Michigan State University. Shaffer’s career evolved from a painter to educator. Starting as assistant professor of art at Olivet College in Olivet, Mich., and then in 1955 he was hired at Beloit College as a professor of art and later obtained the position of director of the Wright Art Center at Beloit College.
He admits he never imagined being an artist when he grew up, and today he says he’s still not sure if he wants to be an artist.
“I just followed the lines of least resistance,” he said. “We follow things we’re good at, and usually the things we’re good at, we become interested in.”
Shaffer always had an enthusiasm of wanting to learn how things were built or constructed.
“I was always asking, ‘I wonder how that works?’ or ‘I’m curious about things built like this or that,’” he said.
In 1959, Shaffer traveled to Maine, where he assisted Clark FitzGerald with the construction of three large-scale sculptures. This influenced his decision to give up his teaching position to embark on a solo art career as a sculptor.
“There’s a curiosity you sort of follow,” he said. “Artists want to get out and have to use different means through color, line and all those shapes to convince you of what they’re trying to tell.”
For many years, Shaffer sculpted in his rural studio in Wisconsin before moving back to Princeton. Most of his works are made from metal, welded or cast. He also has worked in wood and cast concrete.
Shaffer said he enjoys sculpting organic shapes, particularly birds and plants or things that have natural shapes.
“I’m not so much interested in the detail. I want to hit people between the eyes a little bit and not have them just say, ‘Oh look, you can see every detail — the shoelaces on the shoe, the wrinkles on the face.’ ... When you identify it as a face, you kind of know that face has wrinkles and can smile or frown. You have to figure out what you’re going to say about the piece,” he said.
With an estimated 1,200 pieces to his credit, Shaffer has exhibited throughout the Midwest and has major commissions in Maine, Florida, Utah, Wisconsin and Illinois.
In 2012, Shaffer gifted collections of his own sculptures and drawings to Kohler Foundation, where preservation technicians have carefully catalogued, photographed and cleaned each piece. The artwork is now at home at the University of Wisconsin.
Shaffer will be honored at the Prairie Arts Center’s annual gala, to take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at A Hundred Acre Orchard and Market. Tickets are $30 per person; advance reservations or tickets may be purchased at the door for $35. Reservations can be made by calling the PAC at 815-875-2787 or by mailing a check to PAC before Feb. 5.
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