The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first sculpture by Nancy Shaver (b. 1946) entitled Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon (2011). Given to the Gallery by Elizabeth Kessenides, it joins an earlier photograph, Striped T-shirt on Plywood (1975–1977), in the collection. This work amplifies the aesthetic traditions that celebrate the humble, the colloquial, and the undervalued in American material culture.
Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon is an example of the recent series of hybrid painting-sculptures that Shaver has referred to as "blockers." These works straddle the distinct categories and genres of painting and sculpture and defy easy classification. The blockers are rooted in the "junking trips" Shaver made with Walker Evans while studying photography with him at Yale University. They shared an interest in the vernacular, a commitment to an art "about the democracy of things," and a trust in the role of a discerning eye in pursuit of their respective "finds"—castoffs in her case, postcards in his.
Each work is composed of irregular wooden blocks of roughly the same size that have either been painted a monochrome hue or covered with a piece of patterned fabric. Arranged in grids to form squares or rectangles, the vivid, chunky compositions are installed flush to the wall. Shaver uses house paint or gouache alongside fabric from women's clothing found in secondhand stores and flea markets. The textiles are often vibrantly colored or busily patterned. In what she sees as a fundamentally redemptive act, Shaver challenges herself to use this material, which she acknowledges as "pretty bleak," to create something that in its very unfamiliarity reveals "the width of beauty."