Shannon Stirnweis’s 80 years as an artist have landed him in New Ipswich, and produced a new book

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. Staff photo by Brandon Latham

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—

  • Shannon Stirnweis of New Ipswich shows off his work. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/2/2017 7:31:13 AM

The first floor of Shannon Stirnweis’s New Ipswich home is loaded, as you might imagine, with art. His oil paintings line the walls while collector’s doll houses and large fairy houses made by his wife fill the space.

One of the paintings that jumps out most, placed right in the stairwell, is of a girl playing saxophone in a grassy field. After a lifetime of painting and illustrating, Stirnweis says he enjoys that his work covers all sorts of subjects. This piece drives that home all by itself.

Now, so does his book. “80 Years Behind the Brush” maps out his entire career, whose geographic scope beginning with art school in Los Angeles stopping in Germany and reaching his current residence in the Monadnock Region, is almost as expansive as its stylistic scope. He calls it an “honest” depiction of his career.

Putting his work into a book grew out of a gallery showing in Jaffrey in 2015. It showed how his work changed by evenly splitting the show between his early work and art school days, time as an illustrator in New York City, and oil gallery paintings years later. Really though, it started in his childhood, in Oregon during the Great Depression.

“My mother used to give me a nickel a piece, probably just to keep me quiet,” he said. Joking, he added, “That probably tickled my commercial instincts at an early age.”

From there he attended art school in Los Angeles in 1950 for what felt like 200 years. He says that while the school was highly selective and had a high attrition rate, it fostered his experimentation.

“You’d think for an art school, it’d be real easy, but it was not,” he said.

Though he calls his paintings from this era primitive, he learned and listened – “They said my colors were too bright, so I just drew mud!” – and like most of his classmates pursued a career in illustration in the big city.

The New York artist scene was dominated by advertisements and magazines. According to Stirnweis, his choices were New York and Detroit, and he knew he did not want to paint cars.

He said, “At the time we still thought illustration was a viable path, trying to compete with photography, not knowing it was television that was taking away all the editorial work and advertising work.”

During this period, his work appeared on Scholastic book covers and in glossy magazines like Field & Stream.

He lived in Germany for two years, then New York and Connecticut as president of the New York City Society of Illustrators before landing in New Hampshire.

His studio is in the attic of this New Ipswich house. It’s also filled with art – about 200 paintings by his estimation – but other things as well, and its contents reflect his interest in varying subjects.

There are costumes and animal models he uses while working (he said he once had a life-sized horse, but has gotten rid of it). One bookshelf is full of collected works of his artistic heroes, the other is lined with DVD movies.

He has a thing for westerns starring the likes of Gary Cooper, Sam Elliott, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. He has documentaries on Muhammad Ali and Lewis and Clark. He has a removable wall behind which he keeps old prints, and a classic Kodak Carousel slide projector propped on the table.

Then there are the paintings. Some of bears and deer. Some of literary or historical characters. Some of cocktail parties and some of open landscapes.

The 85-year-old mostly works in oils and enjoys continuing to add touches to paintings. They are all works in progress according to Stirnweis.

He is also very humble, even reserved about his paintings. He freely states is that his style is what he calls “derivative,” and never knows whether anybody will like it.

“What I’m doing now is this soft-edge, Seurat-type composition,” he said. “I don’t know what anyone else is going to call it, except bad.”

Georges Seurat, Gary Kelley and Tamara de Lempicka are among the painters by whose styles he has been inspired.

On de Lempicka, whose style he has modeled into recent paintings of bar-goers and dancers, he said, “she was doing something I was doing but different because she modeled the form a lot more strongly.”

After 80 years of creating, Stirnweis is still changing as an painter. He says exposure to new artists has made him test uses of “positive negative space,” for example. He has also published the book, his first.

Stirnweis called his early work “primitive” and his newer work “derivative.” Now it is all in one place, coming together through a popular arts publisher with an assist from the Society of Illustrators. It must not all be as bad as he says it is.




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