Friday, September 9, 2011

Hilltop Camp

Shirley at Hilltop Camp, Spring Green, Wisconsin.  Circa 1951.

A good friend of Eloise Fritz, Shirley taught art at Hilltop both as a young woman, during summer and in between college semesters, and once during the early 1960's when Don was expanding his architectural practice.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shirley Remembers

"I was a camp counselor at Hilltop Camp in Spring Green, Wisconsin.  Hilltop was run by another, former apprentice of Wright, Herbert Fritz and his wife, Eloise."

"That summer, I had a friend visiting from Canada, Muriel Hewitt, and we decided to tour Taliesin which was just down the road from Hilltop.  It was then that I first met Don Erickson."

“Eloise Fritz had two camp counselors at the time; me and Phyllis Silverman. Eloise loaned me the Hilltop pickup truck so that Muriel and I could go to Taliesin.”

“Once we arrived there, Muriel and I were ushered into the drafting room at Taliesin where we met our tour guide, a ‘cute, red headed man.’  His name was Don Erickson."

Don asked, “Where are you from?”

“(Eloise instructed me not to say that I was associated with Hilltop camp; the apprentices were not allowed to date.)”

Muriel said, “I am from Saskatchewan.”

I said, “I am a history professor from the province of Alberta.”

“The tour ended and we went back to Hilltop.”

“About a week later, Phyllis and I took the campers to the movies in Spring Green.  All the kids piled into the pick-up truck and we drove them into town.”

“After the movie, we went to retrieve the truck so that we could return to camp.  On the walk back, I saw Don and another apprentice.”

Don said, ‘What is this?  I thought that you were a history professor and would be back in Canada, by now!”

“I lied.”

“Okay, so you are working at Hilltop.”

“Yes, I am.”

“A few days later, Don drove into Hilltop and asked me for a date . . . Don Fairweather, another apprentice, asked Phyllis out, too.”

“That afternoon, Don drove Phyllis, Don Fairweather, and I – all packed into the front seat of a pick-up truck -- into Spring Green.  We bought steaks, salad fixings and beer at the grocery store and planned to have a cook-out on the beach along the Wisconsin River.  On the way to the beach, we turned off the road through a pasture onto a farmer’s dirt road.  There had been a storm and there was a huge hole in the road.”

“You’ll need to drive around it,” I said.

Don refused.  He drove forward and the truck became engulfed in the hole.

“What are we going to do?” Don wondered.

“We walked to a nearby farm house and knocked on the door.  It was early evening.  The farmer came out onto his front porch.  Don explained that we needed a tractor to pull the truck out of the hole.”

The farmer said, “No.  I know you boys at Taliesin and I’m not going to help you.”

Don and the others walked away but I stayed and spoke to the farmer.

I said, ‘I know how you feel.  My Dad has a farm, too, and these city people drive onto the beach and get stuck in the sand and Dad has to help pull them out.  Dad really resents it, so I understand.”

The farmer said, ‘Your Dad has a farm?’


The farmer replied, “Okay, I’ll help you.”

“Once the farmer used his tractor to pull the truck out of the hole, the four of us drove down to the beach, had our cook-out and drank the beer.  The two Don’s suggested we go skinny-dipping but we refused.”

“The boy’s went down the river and skinny-dipped.  When they went back to pack up the truck, we went skinny-dipping, too.”

Shirley was a born story-teller, and she liked telling the story about her first date with Don.  Shirley and Don not only had a passion for their profession in common, but both learned how to play classical pieces on the piano from the age of four, and were similarly passionate about music.  Shirley became Don’s first wife.  They were married for eighteen years and had three children together.

Pictured are Shirley and her best friend, Muriel Hewitt, at Hilltop Camp in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Monday, July 11, 2011

She is feeding the horses

and painting the sky. . .

And, soon, her grave will be adorned with the field stone that she wanted to mark her life, her lineage, and her passing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Friend Remembers Shirley

I am sitting here in my living room looking at “The Pots” and “Flowers,” remembering the artist, Shirley Dahlke Erickson, with happiness and love.  I am blessed to have known her.

1958 –  was the year we I moved to Mount Prospect and had the good fortune to buy the house on George Street, next door to the Erickson’s.  
Picture this:  I, eight months pregnant, struggling to get a portfolio out of the truck; suddenly interrupted by the presence of a tall, slim, auburn – haired beauty who had just leapt the fence between our houses while calling out a two-word challenge:

“Who paints?”

”Me,” I replied.

Landsman,” Shirley cried,

and with a great, big hug our friendship began.

During the spring and summer of 1959 Shirley and I found it possible to gather up our five children, (who, at the time ranged in age from five months to five years) for a full day each week, entrusting them to the care of Mrs. Busse, a  neighbor, as we two roamed all over Cook County sketching.  Our subjects included everything from a Victorian cemetery to Dear Love Farm (said, at the time, to be the last working farm in Park Ridge).  “The Flowers” dates from those months.
In January, 1960 my husband was transferred back to his company’s New York office.  We moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey.

Don’s architectural career was growing rapidly as he added new clients for residential work, and responded to inquiries for commercial projects (including at least one Las Vegas casino of unique design).  Don and Shirley traveled to New York for the opening of the 1963 World’s Fair and to see the completed Singer Bowl, for which Don had designed major modifications. My husband and I had the pleasure of hosting their overnight stay in New Jersey.
In spite of all that transpired in our own lives over the next six years, Shirley and I remained in touch – mostly through letters or an occasional phone call (usually triggered by what I believe must have been E.S.P. which told us, “it’s time for a call,” which it usually was).
Our letters were focused more on our painting than our families.  Shirley’s observations – her detailed descriptions of old farm houses, canyons, peoples’ faces, or just of light – a particular light falling on a flower, for instance, helped me to understand what she was about (and, I hope, vice-versa).  Just as Shirley helped me to perceive detail, she was always gracious enough to say that I had helped her to be a bit freer with her composition!  

In 1966, my family and I began a series of summer vacations in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, at the invitation of George’s step-mother.  Invariably, we’d stop enroute to visit with the Ericksons, first, at their new house in Barrington; again, shortly after its destruction by a tornado the following year, and, for a third time, as guests at the house-warming following its’ reconstruction.  “The Pots” dates from this time (it seems I’d helped Shirley plant the flowers during our visit the previous summer; apparently we’d left the garden without picking up; the pots remained, undisturbed, where we’d dropped them, while the plants just took hold despite the mayhem surrounding them and bloomed in full glory).  The commemoration of such divergent events was captured for me by Shirley’s beautiful pastel.

Following Shirley’s divorce, we made brief stops at Farwa Farm on the way north through Wisconsin.  By that time, our younger daughter, had fallen fully and forever in love with horses.  Although she was scared to death by Shirley’s spirited Arabian stallion, El Cordobez, our daughter was eager to learn about barn routines and the infinite details of caring for horses. Although she went on to earn a baccalaureate degree in equine studies and, now, with twenty-five years’ professional experience, is a respected  barn manager, working with Grand Prix hunters and jumpers, it can be said that our daughter’s career was greatly influenced by her teen-age working summer with “Aunt Shirley” at Farwa Farm!

Our daughter has taken custody of  “Bye-Bye Birdie,” painted (not without some humor and a good deal of empathy for some long-ago child) of a deceased blue jay, replete with crossed Popsicle sticks to most fully commemorate the creature’s passage.  And, she also owns two prints from Shirley’s series of wild birds native to Wisconsin.  She treasures them.

As time passed, our trips to Wisconsin became fewer.  Meanwhile, the scope of Shirley’s life and work had expanded to include her years in the Southwest.  Shirley’s letters, and our telephone conversations, however, continued, up to within a few weeks of her death. We were fortunate to see some of her later work, including the affecting series of Wisconsin farm houses, the Native American portraits, the western  landscapes and the still life studies. I regret having missed so much of those years, productive despite her failing health   
I shall miss Shirley more than I can say.  I have lost a great friend.  The greatest pleasure I can imagine would be just one more letter or another phone conversation. We’ve still got so much more to talk about!
New Jersey
June 16, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

She lived how she wanted to live

Shirley D. Erickson was born in her family home in Neshkoro, Wisconsin on November 17, 1927, the third child to Arnold C. and Bernice M. Dahlke.   Baptized Shirley Mae Dahlke at the Zion Lutheran Church in Neshkoro, this same church will be the location of her memorial service to be held on June 18, 2011 at 3:00 p.m., in honor of Shirley’s life, and to mark her passing on May 16, 2011 of a cardiac arrest.

Educated in a one-room school house, Shirley first attended school at age four.  In the third grade, her fate as a future artist was sealed when she first saw the painting of “The Horse Fair” done by the French artist, Rosa Bonheur.   Her fate as a horsewoman was also sealed when her father, Arnold, promised to give Shirley a mustang stallion named, “King,” when Shirley was hospitalized and not expected to survive.  However, promised a horse of her own, Shirley regained her will to live, and the girl and King were inseparable until Shirley attended college at age sixteen.

Majoring in fine arts and English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Shirley secured her bachelor’s degree in 1948.  Afterwards, she studied at the Banff school of fine arts in Alberta, Canada, and later pursued graduate work both at her alma mater and at Northern Illinois University.  Between her studies, Shirley spent four-months living at the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona, where she did water colors and learned Native American rituals and lore.  She also spent several months living and painting in Tombstone, Arizona; she was recovering from tuberculosis at the time.

Shirley was first retained to do interior design at the Boston Store in Milwaukee.  Disillusioned by the retail trade, she returned to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in fine art and education.  Between college semesters, Shirley secured a position as a summer camp counselor and art teacher at Hilltop Camp in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which was run by Herbert and Eloise Fritz.  Hilltop was located near Taliesin East, a school founded by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  It was on a tour of Taliesin that Shirley met her future husband, Don Erickson, a red-haired man born of Swedish immigrants whose passion for architecture rivaled Shirley’s passion for being a fine artist.  Don apprenticed with Wright between 1948 and 1951.  Two years later, the couple married at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Princeton, Wisconsin on December 13, 1952. 

The couple first resided in a home designed by Don and located in Palatine, Illinois which they built while Shirley was pregnant with her first child.  On or about 1956, the Ericksons moved to Mt. Prospect, Illinois where they resided until 1965.  Shirley was a stable artist at the Countryside Gallery in Arlington Heights, Illinois between 1963 and 1970, and a participant in numerous juried art shows.   While Shirley built her reputation as an artist, Don built his architectural practice, gaining renown in the Chicago area for his design of private residences, and the Indian Lakes Resort, Hilton Hotel in Bloomingdale, Illinois.

In the early 1960’s, Don and Shirley acquired ten acres of land in Barrington, Illinois and eventually built a home that Don designed for the Erickson family which had grown to three children.  Shirley won “Best in Show” for her painting of the Langendorf’s Antique Shop at the Barrington Art Fair in 1969.  In 1970, Don and Shirley divorced, and Shirley returned to Wisconsin to raise Arabian horses and to continue her work as an artist; she and her family lived on a farm near Princeton, Wisconsin.  After her first two children attended college, Shirley moved to Dakota, Wisconsin.   During this time, a retrospective of Shirley’s work was featured at the Oshkosh Public Museum in 1986.

Always the adventurer, one day the spirit moved her; Shirley packed up her van, drove out west, and landed in Dove Creek, Colorado when she was in her 70’s.  She said that she never felt more at home than in Dove Creek, where she was welcomed as the local artist and did many of her best paintings.  In year 2000, the Edge of the Cedars State Park museum in Blanding, Utah, featured the “Rock and Soul” exhibition of Shirley’s work, which included paintings of bleached skulls, Mesa Verde, and Anasazi ruins.

Diagnosed with lung disease in 2005, Shirley could no longer withstand the Colorado altitude, and she missed seeing her only grandchild, Cora.  She returned home to Wautoma, this time with her companion “Dog,” a shaggy Australian Shepherd.  Near the end of her life, Shirley enjoyed the company of Cora, taught art to private students, but with dwindling eyesight, she painted less and less.  She reflected, just before she died, that she had “lived a good life” and that she “had done everything that she wanted to do.”  She died, just as she lived, on her own terms.   

The memorial service, which is open to the public, will be held at the Zion Lutheran Church, on 227 North State Street, Neshkoro, WI, on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.  Flowers can be sent to the church in Shirley’s honor, or donations can be made in her honor to the American Lung Association ( 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Memorial Service

While Shirley was interred today in the Dahlke family plot in the tiny cemetery off Highway 73 and East Bluff Road in Neshkoro, Wisconsin, there will be a memorial service and reception to follow.

As Shirley's coffin was being lowered into the grave, an eagle sored overhead, making several circles over the grave, and the people in attendance.

The memorial service will be held for Shirley D. Erickson, along with a photographic retrospective of her paintings, on June 18, 2011 at 3:00 p.m. at the Zion Lutheran Church in Neshkoro, Wisconsin.

Zion Lutheran Church
227 North State Street
Neshkoro, WI 54960-9501
(920) 293-4312

Family, friends, and the public are welcome. Flowers can be sent in Shirley's honor to the church, or donations can be made, in Shirley's honor, to the American Lung Society. See link below:

Shirley suffered from COPD.