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Elizabeth Dodds Shaffer

Long time resident of New Castle, IN

Elizabeth Dodds Shaffer - Christmas Shoppers
Christmas Shoppers by Elizabeth Shaffer

Elizabeth’s works are in the collection of individuals, museums and businesses.  Her accolades include:

  • A founding member of the Art Association of Henry County, New Castle, IN
  • Painted the Bundy portraits (General Omar Bundy and Mrs. Adda Bundy)  for the Bundy Auditorium
  • Painted a portrait of General Harrison, which hangs in the officers’ club at Fort Harrison, IN
  • Exhibit: Knickerbocker Artist Annual in New York City, NY
  • Exhibit: Amber Crombie Finch exhibit of “Arts In Sports”
  • Studied portraiture with nationally recognized artists Wayman Adams and Jerry Farnsworth
  • Staff-artist for Ayres Art Department doing fashion illustrations and freelance illustrator for Blocks
  • Taught classes concentrated on portraits and still lifes in her studio above the Art Barn
  • She and her husband, Verl, owned and operated the the Art Barn, picture framing studio.

Interview with Elizabeth Dodds Schaefer

By Kerry Holsapple – Henry County Art Center Souvenir Catalog | June 26, 1993

KH: Where were you born?
EDS: I was born in Cairo, Illinois, but I’ve lived most of my life in Indiana.

KH: Who were your parents?  Any brothers or sisters?
EDS: My mother was Ella Wemple Dodds, and my father was Samuel Dodds.  I had two brothers, 10 and 12 years older than me.  Their names were Ford and Wemple.

KH: Which brother was the Doctor who supported you in your artistic studies?
EDS: That was my brother Wemple.  He lived and practiced medicine in Crawfordsville for many years.

KH: Looking back, what town was the place of your childhood?
EDS: It’s kind of hard to say … because my father was a physician, and he got into psychiatry, so I grew up in the environment of an institution. That was in Logansport, where my father worked at the State Hospital. When I was 12 or 13, my father died – and after that, my mother, and older brother, and I moved to Indianapolis.

KH: So, you look to Logansport as your childhood town? What kind of environment was that to grow up in?
EDS: Yes, that’s right. My home environment was the State Hospital, and that was two or three miles out of town along the Wabash River … a very beautiful area. I went to grade school in town.

KH: Was there an early urge to become a painter? What are your earliest memories of drawing and painting?
EDS: No, there really wasn’t. I really didn’t try it very early. When I realized I needed to use what ability I had to help myself help me myself a living, I went into commercial art.

KH: Then what did you do as a child?
EDS: I was a tomboy… loved to play tennis. Phys Ed was my minor later on in college.

KH: Did you try any other arts as a child – such as dance, music, writing, etc.
EDS: Both of my parents were very talented musically, but I didn’t inherit any of that. I seem to have a port ear for music. I took piano lessons early on, and it didn’t take long to find that out.

KH:  Moving ahead to your teen years … where did you go to high school? College?
EDS:  I graduated from Shortridge in Indianapolis and then from Butler. In college, I majored in English and minored in Phys Ed. At that time, I thought of becoming a Phys Ed instructor.

KH: So, when was it that there was that initial notion that you wanted to try painting? How old were you?
EDS: I lived in Indianapolis. And I had graduated from college before I really went to work at it. I realized I could draw well enough, and that led to getting a job in the Ayres Art Department doing fashion illustrations.

KH: So, you sort of backed into an art career?
ESD: Yes, I guess that’s kind of what happened

KH: What was the next step in your painting career?
EDS: Backing up, when I lived in Crawfordsville, I studied oil painting for a couple of years with an excell0ent portrait painter named Fritz Schlemmer. After that, I studied with two other excellent artists.

One was Wayman Adams, with whom I studied for a couple of years. We worked on portraits, still lifes, and landscapes, but I was mainly interested in portraiture. I also traveled out east to study portraiture with Jerry Farnsworth.

For a short time, I studied commercial art at the Art Institute in Chicago. After I begin to work at Ayers, I worked mainly as a freelance artist. I also did fashion illustrations for Blocks. By this time, I lived in New Castle, and I drove back and forth to Indianapolis.

KH: Throughout this period of study, working as a freelance and developing a painting career, who encouraged and supported you?
EDS: My mother, and my brother Wemple … and later my husband Verl.

KH: When did you first move to New Castle?
EDS: Verl and I were married in 1943. We moved to Newcastle in 1946.

KH: What can you say that you learn from Schlemmer, Adams, and Farnsworth that later showed up in your own work?
EDS: Dedication, I guess. To keep at it … to keep trying.

KH: When did you make the transition from a freelance commercial artist to full time painting career?
EDS: It began after I moved back to New Castle. Verl and I lived where we do now, and my first studio was in the house. We bought the building now known as the Art Barn, and Verl remodeled it, making the top floor into my studio.

KH: It was there you taught classes?
EDS: Yes … I began teaching classes in the early 1950s. My classes concentrated on portraits and still lifes.

KH: Did you have a connection with the Art Guild?
EDS: I was one of the early members of it, and I’ve been going back to the meetings recently. One of the reasons for founding the Art Association was that there were no men participating in the Art Guild. The Guild has pretty much always been an all-woman’s group. The Art Association was a way to try to get both men and women involved in encouraging and promoting art in Henry County.

KH: Before we talk about the Art Association, I’d like to know who some of your favorite artists are.
EDS: Well, of the “Old Masters,” I love Rembrandt … and as for a more recent “Masters,” I like Winslow Homer. Then there’s Remington, Whistler, Sargent, Cassatt, Ekins … Benton, Curry, Bellows, and Andrew Wyeth.

KH: And what about highlights of your painting clear… are there any events that stand out for you?
EDS: I was honored to have been asked to paint the Bundy portraits for the Bundy Auditorium. They were very difficult to paint because there was very little reference material to work from. Getting the proportions of the figures to each other and to the landscape was a challenge. A friend of mine helped out by posing as Mrs. Bundy to get the sizes and proportion right. A portrait I painted of General Harrison hangs in the officers’ club at Fort Harrison.

Then, there have been my various state-wide, regional, and national juried exhibits exhibitions my work has been accepted in. The nationals include the Knickerbocker Artist Annual in New York City and the Abercrombie Fitch Exhibit of “Arts in Sports.” I feel fortunate to have received many awards through the years and to have my work represented in both private and public collections.

KH: That’s an impressive record… now, let’s talk about the Art Association you helped start in 1965. Where did the idea of the Art Association come from?
EDS: Yes, that’s right. It was started to encourage creative work and then exhibit original work locally. From the beginning the Courier-Times supported the idea of an annual exhibit, and that’s how the Fall Patio Shows began.

KH: And there have been 27 Fall Shows since then?
EDS: That’s right. Most all of them have been hosted by the Courier-Times on their patio. We were fortunate and appreciative to have had the sponsorship of the Chamber’s Family – who owned the paper for much of that period.

KH: Talking about the Art Association history, what are some of the highlights?
EDS: That we were able to put on 27 juried shows and, of course, more recently, the development of the Art Center.

KH: How does the Art Center match up with your dream of having an arts facility for the people of Henry County?
EDS: It’s just overwhelming… it’s great … be our expectations. I think it’s good that there will be multiple opportunities for doing artwork of various kinds.

KH: Well, we’ve tried to include everyone. The Art Center will need community support to help maintain it. I’m sure you’d like to see it maintained permanently?
EDS: Yes, I would… most definitely!

KH: How do you think the Arts Center will benefit the people of Henry County?
EDS: Oh, that’s too big a question for me. Adults, and especially children, will certainly have more opportunities to experience things that have never been available here before.

KH: Briefly, let’s talk about your working methods. How does a picture begin with you?
EDS: With portraiture, I look for someone I want to paint. Recently, I’ve had a lot of fun doing pencil drawings of landscapes. Working in black and white helps me concentrate on the composition without color. It’s one way to develop a sense for composition, and I think that’s important, don’t you?

KH: Yes… artists either look for a pattern in line or mass, tone or color … or a combination of these factors. So, when you develop a picture, do you reflect on the image in your mind’s eye … or do you dig right in?
EDS: With a lot of pictures, I reflect on the image. That’s true. With other pictures, I begin and just stick with it.

KH: Do you do preliminary sketches or studies, or do you start right in?
EDS: No, I don’t do many sketches or small studies. With portraits and still life, I arrange the subject, and then I begin.

KH: What media do you like to use?
EDS: Lately, I’ve been using pastel, but, over my career, I’ve used just about everything: ink, pencil, oil, watercolor, and acrylics.

KH: When you develop a picture, what are the stages?
EDS: Sometimes, I draw with charcoal and then fix it before painting, and other times I begin directly with the brush and paint. My techniques vary from thin-washy, too thin-dry, to a thick dash impasto paint surface. Lately, I’ve been translating the small pencil drawings I spoke of onto Ingres Pastel Paper and using pastels.

KH: To you, what makes a good picture?
EDS: Hmmm … I look for all the elements. Composition, Color.

KH: What advice do you have for a young person who’s interested in his professional career or someone who just wants to learn how to draw and paint?
EDS: It must be different these days from when I started. Well, either studying with a good teacher … either privately or at an art school. Begin with a solid foundation drawing.

KH: That’s good advice. Ingres did say, “Drawing is the probity of Art.” Thank you, Betty!
EDS: Thank you!