It’s difficult to stroll through Janesville or Beloit and not see multiple sculptures created by artist O.V. “Verne” Shaffer.
In Janesville, his work can be seen at the Janesville Woman’s Club, One Parker Place, the downtown branch of BMO Harris Bank, Hedberg Public Library and Rotary Botanical Gardens.
It’s also visible on the Beloit College campus, Beloit’s Riverside Park, Beloit Memorial Hospital and at many other sites in Beloit and throughout Wisconsin.
Shaffer died Feb. 16 in Princeton, Illinois, where he was born. He was 93.
“This is the end of a legacy,” said Jerry Sveum, president of the Beloit Art Center Board of Directors. “He has created more public art than any artist in Wisconsin.”
Sveum said 28 Shaffer artworks can be seen in Beloit, and a total of 60 pieces can be found throughout Wisconsin, including at Madison Public Library and at the Neville Public Museum in Green Bay.
“O.V. Shaffer’s legacy is forged in our community and in our state,” Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said. “His sculptures leave a lasting impression in Beloit, and we are thankful that he shared his talents with our city. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones as we all grieve his loss.”
Shaffer graduated from Beloit College in 1950 with degrees in biology, speech and art. He earned a master’s degree in art at Michigan State University and taught at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan.
He returned to Beloit College in 1955 as an art instructor and was appointed the college’s first full-time director of the Wright Museum of Art.
Shaffer’s daughter, Cary Tuckey, said she and her brother Owen grew up on Brewster Street in Beloit. She said her father was commissioned to create a sculpture for a military memorial one day, and that gave him an idea. He asked his wife, Bernice, “What if I quit my job and do this full time?”
“Of course, my mother said, ‘Sure,’” Tuckey said.
The family lived in different parts of the country but always returned to the Beloit area. From 1972 to 1995, the family owned a 15-acre property near Clinton where Shaffer created many of the pieces that can be seen throughout the state. The Clinton studio was where he created “Celebration,” an 8-ton metal sculpture that now stands proudly at Riverside Park in Beloit.
In 2001, he returned to his hometown of Princeton, Illinois, where he continued to create art.
“He was actively sculpting until he was 87. That’s pretty good,” Tuckey said.
In 2015, Sveum and others developed a road trip tour of 14 Wisconsin cities so people could view Shaffer’s work.
Dan Schooff, chief of staff and secretary at Beloit College, said the tour was a fitting tribute to Shaffer. He said communities that display Shaffer’s art are richer for it.
“He certainly gave back to Beloit and Princeton, but his art also can be seen around the country,” Schooff said.