(Herington, Kansas, 1944 - 2005, Shelter Island, New York)
Relief printing, lithography, serigraph, vegetable printing, embossing and stitching on paper
18 1/2 x 23 in. (47.0 x 58.4 cm)
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Gift of Rory and Dedee O'Neil
A passage from Alan Shields’s 1974 interview with Howardena Pindell (an influential artist who, like Shields, also employed unconventional mixed media) helps to explain the context for many works that he created in the early ‘70s, including Simple Snow: “I started out working with Bill Weege in a place called the Jones Road Print Shop & Stable. He’s a teacher and a pretty well-known printmaker in his own right for a lot of protest posters and stuff like that. In fact, he did workshops at the Venice Biennale four years ago. I didn’t have a lot of information about printmaking when I started. Actually, a guy named Rory O’Neil commissioned the first print Bill and I did, Sun, Moon, Title Page. He introduced me to Bill, and I went out to Wisconsin, and Bill taught me all this stuff, and I taught him some things I wanted to do, and he liked them, so we got along pretty well. And we developed techniques for doing things through our own sort of industriousness. We’re industrious artists, we’re industrious people. We have similar farm backgrounds. We have mechanical skills we take for granted, almost, because there’s never a doubt that one or the other of us can do almost anything that comes up because we’ve got those kinds of skills. To put things together.” The Jones Road Print Shop & Stable—co-owned by Weege and longtime Museum supporter Rory O’Neil and located on a farm in rural Barneveld, Wisconsin—provided an ideal setting for industrious, creative work (O’Neil had become connected to Weege through Akron Art Institute director Orrel Thompson, who knew Weege his time at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin). A journalist described Jones Road as “a workshop in which anything is possible, at least until it has been attempted.” For example, during this period Shield and Weege found success using potatoes as printing blocks, and they also tried parsnips and carrots. Many of Shields’s prints from Jones Road were knowingly made through unpredictable processes, such that works within an edition would vary significantly. Asked if he adhered to any standard techniques, the artist responded “I don’t even know them. I don’t even care.” Artists like Shields and Sam Gilliam (examples of his work from Jones Road are also included in the AAM collection) came to the University of Wisconsin as visiting professors, stayed at the farm, and made prints. Many of these in turn entered the collection of Rory and Dedee O’Neil as gifts in lieu of rent. Shields particularly enjoyed the simple and streamlined economic arrangement that Jones Road offered: “We make it work, because I trade Bill one third of an edition, and he produces it. He has to feed me while I’m there, and I make it work for me and for him too, because he can sell enough to make his money back. Then we both try to sit on our works and make our buck. I do it without having to go through another agent.” In his revealing interview with Pindell, Shields consistently describes his output at Jones Road as an exciting combination of free-flowing experimentation and intensive, dedicated labor: “A lot of times I have to make real arbitrary decisions, and I have to work for a month or two to really achieve the density I need… I work damn hard, and I work the hell out of that guy Weege. His back gets worse and worse every time I go there. Actually, he’s a wonderful guy… I print all day long. Other people don’t work nearly so hard. A lot of my things are done in such a way that the only way I can get away with it is that I do it myself. We do so much handwork on these things and so much accidental work.” Both experimentation and labor are operative in a work like Simple Snow, in which exuberantly energetic lines and bright colors and complemented by material finish and a sense of visual balance.