Prolific artist O.V. “Verne” Shaffer’50, whose legacy includes hundreds of sculptures in the Midwest and beyond—including seven on Beloit’s campus—died Feb. 16, 2021, in his hometown of Princeton, Ill., at age 93.
His daughter said he was still sculpting at age 87.
Shaffer was a beloved art professor and the Wright Museum of Art’s first full-time director from 1955-64. Best known for his large-scale public sculptures of steel and brass, he spent most of his career as an independent artist. In addition to his outdoor works of art, he created hundreds of smaller pieces for private collections.
Shaffer was mentored by Beloit’s artist-in-residence and art professor Franklin Boggs, who inspired him to think expansively about materials. After graduating from Beloit, Shaffer taught briefly at Olivet College (Michigan) and earned a master’s degree in art from Michigan State University.
Slit, shown above, is one of his most prominent works on Beloit’s campus. The welded brass piece forms a permeable wall in the Godfrey Anthropology Building outside the Logan Museum. Other notable sculptures include Reach, along the walkway leading to the Wright Museum of Art, and Celebration, which rises 31 feet along the banks of the Rock River in Riverside Park.
Shaffer’s public art is predominantly located in Wisconsin, with more than two dozen sculptures in the city of Beloit and 60 pieces throughout the state of Wisconsin. He also had major commissions in Maine, Florida, Utah, and Illinois.
In 2014, the Beloit Art Center held a retrospective on Shaffer’s work that included a 14-city road trip to view his public art across Wisconsin. That year, he received a Certificate of Recognition from then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for having produced the most public art in the state. Shaffer received many accolades over his lifetime, including the Distinguished Service Citation from Beloit, the highest honor given by the Beloit College Alumni Association.
As the subject of a Beloit College Magazine cover story in 2004, Shaffer reflected on art’s role in his life. “Most people—when they retire from their real jobs—do art as a hobby,” he said. “Basically, I retired in 1961 and have worked on my hobby for the last 40-plus years. I keep creating art because people keep asking me to. It’s fun and it keeps me young.”
Survivors include a son and a daughter, a granddaughter, and a great granddaughter. His surviving Beloit alumni family includes two nieces, Sarah Nelson Brooks’73 and Mary Nelson’83, a great-niece, Susannah Brooks’01, and two nephews, Aaron Nelson’81 and Peter Nelson’78. Shaffer was predeceased by his former wife, Bernice Mutimer Shaffer’51, brother, Jerome Shaffer’53, and sisters Mary Lu Shaffer Nelson’45 and Maybeth Shaffer Martin’47.
The family requests that memorial gifts be designated to the O.V. Shaffer Museum Studies Endowed Exhibition Fund at Beloit College.