Wendy Shaft was born and raised in mid-Michigan by parents who were second-career public school teachers. They set an example of life-long learning: science, nature, art,literature, and theater. Additionally, their enthusiastic observation of the natural world during travel adventures left a lasting impression. She decided to study the sciences in college.
With her Geology degree almost finished, she decided to head to Alaska to work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Geology from Michigan State University in 1976, and she moved to Alaska permanently in 1977.
During her time in Anchorage, she discovered she was more interested in art than geology; she went back to school part time, eventually adding a Bachelor of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts in 1987 with an emphasis on book arts.
While living in Anchorage, Wendy met her husband, Don Bixler, and they opened Limner Press, their letterpress printing business. They collaborated on the now retired “Wendy Shaft Block Printed Images” card and journal line for which Wendy cut hundreds of linoleum blocks.
During this time, they became acquainted with Tom Sexton (Alaska Poet Laureate Emeritus). Poetry chap books and broadsides were published with Tom as editor, Wendy creating art and Don on press.
In 2005 Wendy Shaft and Don Bixler relocated from Anchorage,Alaska to Williamston, Mich., Wendy’s hometown. Dorothy, Wendy’s mom was able to age in place by having family live with her. It was also a time to be grateful for the influences of her parents on her subject matter over the years.
Wendy continues to pursue her relief printmaking as well as surface design and dye-painted textiles. You may have seen her work on the Arts Council of Greater Lansing's 2016/2017 Billboard Project. You can visit Wendy Shaft, Artist on Facebook.
A chance conversation with a fellow guitar player, Paul Schneider, led to this exhibit. Sharing what we do in our “non-guitar life” led me to explain about printmaking; "I carve linoleum blocks for relief printing, print from found objects and make gelatin prints. I also work with hand set type for broadsides, chapbooks and posters.
Paul’s response was enthusiastic. He was especially interested in the broadsides because they combine poetry and type. After one of our rehearsals he showed me“Gecko” (on his phone!!), one of several children’s poems he had written. I was charmed and an opportunity presented itself. I could at last return to a segment of “Book Arts”, broadsides, I had not visited since living in Alaska.
Initially I was thinking of a small book, but eventually, I picked eight of the poems to carve linoleum blocks for two broadside formats. (The modern broadside has its roots in 16th to 19th century communication: a printed sheet with an image and event information or a ballad.) Each poem brought its own image to me. Making art can be solitary, and it was exciting to see Paul’s reaction to what I had come up with.
The rest of the art is the result of seeing the blocks separately from the poetry. I experimented with type, used gelatin prints for back grounds and hand painted some. Printmaking brings me peace. I love the feel of cutting into the linoleum, the smell of the ink, the tactile nature of gelatin plates and finally the thrill of pulling the print.
Become a child at heart. It’s what happened to me when I first read “Gecko.”
Artist note of transparency: Although I do set type, I did not for the broadsides; my husband, Don Bixler, set it. He is a third-generation printer, and he took pity on me as he can handle the type with speed, grace and joy! Each letter, spacing and the punctuation, are individually picked out of the type case.
Wendy's exhibition will be on display at the Arts Council during the month of October, 2019. Stop by anytime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday - Friday to view her work.