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 (www.lungusa.org).