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Honoring Mark Shafer
Fairfield Art Association dedicates membership exhibit to Mark Shafer
FAIRFIELD — Friday was the opening day of the Fairfield Art Association Mark Shafer Membership Exhibit.
The FAA’s membership exhibit will be up through the end of February, and features selections from area artists in the atrium of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. In light of Mark Shafer’s passing on Dec. 17, the FAA dedicated the membership exhibit to him. Shafer was a founding member of the Fairfield Art Association, which he joined while in high school at FHS.
Friday also happened to be the date of Shafer’s funeral at St. Mary Catholic Church, so his extended family members were in town stopped by the arts center after the funeral to see a portion of the membership exhibit that was reserved for Shafer’s art.
Shafer liked painting pictures of famous and historically relevant buildings in Fairfield, as well as the town’s Founding Fathers and Mothers. This side of Shafer’s personality was on display in the arts center Friday with Shafer’s artwork depicting the Bonnifield Log Cabin and Barhydt Chapel, which once graced the campus of Parsons College. The display showed Shafer’s original drawings that Chris Bennett converted into public statues commissioned by the FAA, among those the William Coop Statue in Fairfield’s Central Park, and the “Leap Frog” statue outside the Carnegie Historical Museum.
Shafer was renowned for his vast knowledge of Fairfield history, and interestingly, Shafer was himself a producer of important history. For instance, just a few years after graduating from the University of Iowa, Shafer published a book in 1976 called “Fairfield at the Turn of the Century,” a 60-page volume containing information Shafer researched about the town’s most noteworthy homes, businesses, public buildings, churches and other structures of the 19th century. For each entry, Shafer illustrated an image of the building he profiled.
Susan Shafer, Mark’s wife, said about a thousand copies of the book were printed, and today copies can be found at the Fairfield Public Library and at the Carnegie Historical Museum. She said Mark loved architecture, a passion he shared with Father Stephen Page, who was at one time the priest at St. Mary Catholic Church.
Susan was born Catholic, and Mark converted to Catholicism later in life after the two got married.
“He loved its rich history, and its beautiful artwork and churches,” Susan said. “It’s why he and Father Page got along so well. They both loved history.”
Shafer taught art to elementary, middle and high school students in the Fairfield Community School District for 34 years. Susan said that, while he was a teacher, he did art on the side, such as commissioned work and especially portraits.
“He was enamored with anything Louden, too,” she said, referring to the Louden Machinery Company founded in Fairfield.
During the last five years of Shafer’s life, his artwork explored mostly religious themes. In fact, the piece of art he was planning to enter in the FAA membership exhibit this winter was called “Veil of Veronica,” a Christian relic, and a depiction of a Catholic martyr named Miguel Pro.
“Mark was a very holy man,” Susan said. “He never bragged about his faith, but he lived it every day.”
On Friday afternoon, Susan’s side of the family gathered at the arts center to see Shafer’s artwork on display and to share their favorite stories about him. Susan’s brother Art recalled receiving a phone call from Susan when he was 16 years old.
“She said, ‘Art, it’s Susan. I’m married,’” he said. “And I went, ‘Ha! Mom, come over here and listen to this!’”
Susan and Mark had eloped without telling anyone. When Susan’s mother found out, she told Susan, “Come home and see a priest!”
“And what did I say as a good Catholic girl? I’ll be there this weekend!” Susan said.
Evan Anderson, Mark’s nephew, said he bonded with his uncle over their shared love of art. Anderson works with digital art and photography, and said he marveled at Shafer’s ability to insert complex symbolism into every square inch of his paintings.
“Decoding his paintings is like decoding the Da Vinci Code,” Evan said.
Anderson Hardy, another of Mark’s nephews, said he always had great conversations with his uncle.
“Mark was one of the most real people I’ve ever known. He’d always come through with a story or memory to show he really cared about connecting,” Hardy said. “Our conversations were heartfelt, and we talked about real things that a lot of people don’t talk about.”
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org