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Nancy Shaver

Untitled [Nancy Shaver] by Walker Evans, 1973

Untitled [Nancy Shaver] by Walker Evans, 1973

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Gift of Eliza Mabry and Jonathan Gibson (digitally reproduced by Christopher Gardner), © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Born 1946, Appleton, New York

Growing up in a rural, working-class town in Upstate New York, Nancy Shaver was drawn to making compositions of ordinary, unpretentious materials and objects. She received her BFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1969 and initially gravitated to photography, using the camera to frame bits of rubbish she found abandoned on the city’s streets. After auditing a class at Yale University with photographer Walker Evans, with whom she often went on “junking” trips, Shaver began making assemblages of found and altered objects. Since she opened “Henry,” an antique shop in Hudson, New York, in 1994, her art practice has often paralleled her retail activities.

In early assemblages Shaver recontextualized objects and paintings from secondhand shops, along with phrases excerpted from books or overheard conversations, fitting them into frames and shadow boxes or covering their surfaces with paint. Juxtaposing vernacular and mass-market items, Shaver foregrounded associations of taste and status as much as the formal qualities of particular objects. In later works she began covering blocks of wood in fabric or paint and arranging them into quiltlike compositions, set within frames and other containers. The humble, provisional quality of these arrangements is mirrored by the ordinariness of their materials: pieces of repurposed fabric, often taken from used clothing, and inexpensive, everyday house paint in addition to gouache and Flashe acrylic. Tantamount to her idiosyncratic retail installations at Henry, Shaver’s abstract compositions disregard distinctions between utility and decoration, as well as mass culture, craft, and fine art, underlining both the hierarchical boundaries dividing these categories and their permeability.

In Drawing #27, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . ”, a bucketlike structure perched on a metal stand is host to a twisting mass of cloth. A web of stretchy fabric loops holding the fabric in place extends the bright colors painted on the surface of the wooden form. In the Wings consists of five brightly patterned and painted wooden block constructions. Fitted with wonky metal limbs, the sculptures resemble pillows or chairs that seem to crawl, creaturelike, across a bold handloomed rug made by the artist Emi Winter.


Jenevive Nykolak


Shaver, Nancy. The Quilt and The Truck. With Jean-Phillipe Antoine and Susan Gomersall. Portland, OR: Publication Studio, 2011.

Stillman, Steel, and Lucy Raven. Henry at Home. Chicago: Soberscove Press, 2010.