- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - O.V. “Verne” Shaffer relishes the freedom to illustrate that which has no name, often in gargantuan proportions.

Although some say Shaffer has created more than 1,200 works of art, the artist said it’s more like one large-scale sculpture per each of his 60 years of work. And “large” is what the 86-year-old Shaffer loves the most.

“Metal is preferable. I do it because I can do it alone. I can build it big and I can make it any shape,” he said.

One of his fond memories was working on “Celebration” in 1977. It was originally commissioned by Warner Electric in Roscoe, although the structure eventually came to rest at Riverside Park in Beloit. “Celebration,” which paid homage to the spirit of manufacturing -motion, strength and direction - was an engineering marvel. The 8-ton sculpture was built, and subsequently moved, in three separate pieces.

Another one of his large scale pieces was “The Landing” built in 2004 for Ironworks Park. The two pieces of stainless steel stand at 50 and 60-feet tall.

To make his large visions come to life, Shaffer said he worked side-by-side with welders, some of his favorite co-workers.

He described his work on a major piece as a “coordinated, wonderful action” like how one movement precedes another in ballet or one note follows another is music.

“It’s something you feel,” he told the Beloit Daily News (https://bit.ly/1p83axA).

Shaffer credited his ability to dream and execute a vision to the freedom he experienced in his youth, a time when adults let children explore. After all, the adults were busy doing something they enjoyed as well. Despite growing up during the Depression, he was always able to try new things and get a job.

As a youngster he had an asparagus-cutting gig, a paper route and had worked at a grocery and shoe store when not shucking oats or picking apples. Up by 4 a.m., to help sweep store fronts, Shaffer said he was always on the move.

During his many hours of childhood labor, he also squeezed in time to help design three-story tree houses. In addition to his burgeoning drawing skills, he learned to use tools and to work with large-scale proportions. In high school he worked for a monument company which put in gravestones, further honing his skills.

When he went on to Beloit College his expanding knowledge grew even more. As a student at Beloit College, Shaffer majored in art, biology and speech and was in wrestling, according to the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s website.

“It was a liberal arts college and it teaches you a little bit of everything, maybe not a lot of one single thing. I had a broad experience,” he said.

Shaffer said he began his work by simply doing what people asked him to when they requested a piece. But although he did many commissioned pieces they all were Shaffer’s visions.

“I come up with an idea, I don’t like to be told what to do,” he said.

Unlike galleries where work might hang on a wall, Shaffer said he enjoyed knowing who the work was for.

“Each of the pieces is really personal. And by and large they are all successful because people said that is what they wanted. I have illustrated or given form to their concept of what it is that they enjoy,” Shaffer said.

Some of his work involved giving an image to that which may not have been portrayed yet. For example, in his work “Siren” Shaffer created a mythological half-woman, half bird-creature sculpted in 1987 of welded brass for Beloit College.

In the “Confluence” built in 1976 for Beloit Public Library which is now home to the Hendricks Center for the Arts, Shaffer pays tribute to the coming together of the Turtle Creek and the Rock River. He said the piece represents states, countries, talents and industries, ideas and learning merging together.

In “Reach,” a welded brass sculpture for Beloit College depicting an owl rising up from a cloaked figure, it symbolizes the student being released with what knowledge and wisdom he or she gained in education.

However, Shaffer said he tends to avoid being too descriptive of his work or giving it too detailed of a name.

“When you invent it, it’s always not complete. The person that’s looking at it has to fill in the blanks. It becomes part of your mind, and the way you see it is a little different,” he said.


Information from: Beloit Daily News, https://www.beloitdailynews.com

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