Wednesday, November 19, 2008

W. David Shaw: "No Talent" - Underscored!

When Ernest W. Watson was preparing to interview W. David Shaw for the October 1955 issue of American Artist, he asked Shaw to jot down a few biographical notes and send them to him. Shaw began his reply with "Born July 4, 1916, Boonville, Indiana - No talent."

The words "no talent", Watson reported, were underlined.

When writing about his early schooling, Shaw again wrote "no talent" - and again further down, when he noted the beginning of his formal art training in Chicago.

"The underlining seems to have been done with a contumacious rigor implying a challenge to anyone who supports the theory of God-given talent," wrote Watson.

Shaw believed that "a person can do anything if he wants to do it earnestly enough and if he will work hard enough for it."

"That is the way I have made my own way, knowning from boyhood days that I wanted to be an artist and consistently struggling to that end."

Shaw praised his parents for fostering his early interest in art.

"Mother played the violin and piano. She also did fancy work. She was not a copyist; she invented her own designs or took fantastic liberties with patterns that served merely as a point of departure."

His father also profoundly influenced the young David Shaw. Though the elder Shaw was a coal miner, he had ambitions for an art career. "He wanted to be a sign painter," says Shaw. "So he took an International Correspondence School course in sign painting and, venturing much, left the mines and hung out his shingle. Well, he did all right, got all the work he could do until the depression of the Thirties. I became his helper."

"In the late Twenties, while still in my early teens, I was earning seven dollars a day and was carrying a union card. Much of this money I banked against the day when I would want it for my art education."

"Those sign painting days really were thrilling. They took dad and me all around the country. We often camped out when far from home."

"And dad's shop itself was exciting; to me it seemed the very center of the town's cultural and business activity. All sorts of people came there to order signs and we seemed to be an important cog in the business life of the community."

Tragedy struck the Shaw family during Dave's sophmore year in high school. Due to the tough times of the depression, Dave's father had no choice but to return to the mines.

A week later, he was killed in a accident.

My W. David Shaw Flickr set.

* Once again, my thanks to Harold Henriksen for today's scans, and to Jaleen Grove for providing the W. David Shaw article from American Artist magazine.


  1. Knowing of the sign painting at an early age helps explain his great facility with a brush.

  2. geez these are amazing!

  3. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Hi Leif,
    Shaw's work is great, really fresh and a very distinctive style. He sure had a flair with the brush and obviously was enjoying his work.

  4. Love the work. He had such easy expertise. Comes from thousands of hours of practice and application, but it just looks so natural and uncontrived.

  5. These are great--keep them coming man!

  6. Anonymous12:41 PM

    What's more unforgiving than a wet brush? And he uses it with the same ease that we speak our native language!

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