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April 17, 2024

Remembering Floyd Shaman

Revered sculptor, artist and teacher

By Lyndsi Naron, The Bolivar Bullet

Floyd Shaman, a valued sculptor and teacher, was born on December 20, 1935 in Wheatland, Wyoming and passed away on August 8, 2005. He is remembered today as an artist, a teacher, a US Navy Veteran, a cowboy, a father, a bit of a comedian, and a friend to those who knew him. 

Most importantly Floyd was someone who made an impression, not just on the sculptures he carved, but in the minds of those who continue to appreciate his art.

Rachel Brown wrote, “If his works are undefinable, they are at the same time, undeniably recognizable. They are us. They are ‘middle America’; the bartenders, the waitresses and the modern day cowboys, all caught in the act of being themselves.”

Not only did Floyd make sculptures, he created characters, and each piece has its own personality. Many people were surprised by his career and couldn’t believe he was a full time artist. Some of his pieces would go for between $6,000 – $12,000 when he was alive.

“When you’re young, art is deadly serious,” explained Floyd in a 1987 article by Phyllis Tenelshof in The Clarion Ledger. “When you get older you mellow out. You don’t need light bulbs going off in your head to inspire you to work. You just do it.”

According to his daughter, Clover Mellen, Floyd was the only child of a Czechoslovakian immigrant, and an American school teacher. He worked and lived on a ranch in Wyoming while he was in high school, and worked as a bartender while at the University of Wyoming. He also worked as a dental technician during his time in the Navy.

While finding his passion for art and sculpture at the University of Wyoming, Floyd met Molly, the love of his life, and they got married in August of 1960.

“She was very creative—weaving, knitting, baking, needlework, gardening, and playing the piano,” said Mellen.

Floyd and Molly had three sons; Casey, Chris, and Cory and one daughter; Clover (Mellen). 

According to Mellen, a homemaker here in Cleveland; Casey is a translator in Washington, D.C., Chris is a retired insurance plan administrator in Flowood, Mississippi, and Cory is an English professor at a university in Virginia. 

Casey said his dad was trained as a stone carver and learned to cast bronze at the University of Wyoming. 

“When he came to Mississippi, Dad found that there was no stone there which could be used for sculpture, so he changed to wood,” said Casey. “He started with tree trunks that he painted. Dad discovered that these trunks were not seasoned, so they tended to split. They were also heavy. I don’t think there was a steady or reliable source for this type of wood, either. Using pine boards in a lamination technique solved these problems – pine boards were cheap, readily available, and more lightweight. Later, his pieces became lighter and easier to transport by making them come apart into two parts and by making them hollow.”

According to Casey, the lamination process includes; cutting slices of wood into the shapes needed, assembling the pieces, gluing the pieces together with dowels and clamps, carving them into the final shapes, and sanding down any imperfections. 

“The sculpture will be (generally speaking), sanded with a mechanical sander, then hand sanded with finer grades of sandpaper, then polished,” said Casey. “Of course, the smaller and more detailed areas would all be sanded by hand. It was a very labor-intensive process. In the textbook, The Sculpture Reference: Techniques, Terms, Tools, Materials, and Sculpture by Arthur Williams, photographs illustrate dad’s technique and tools.”

“He also cast aluminum, made sculptures and bas-relief out of plaster, did drawings as preliminary studies and as finished works, and was a prolific painter,” added Mellen. 

Mellen said Floyd used different types of woods for different colors, wood grains, and variations, and often filled the sculptures with objects known only to him. You could find mallets, chisels, a power sander, a drill, a saw, sandpaper, glue, dowels, clamps, and more in his studio. 

“I always leave a hollow space inside my sculptures,” he said in an article written by Tenelshof in The Clarion Ledger. “I put little secrets inside. Nobody knows what’s in there, not even my children.” 

“Students often worked in his studio, especially sanding the sculptures,” said Mellen. “He shared several studio spaces over the years with fellow artists and then later had his own studio in the back yard. It smelled of sawdust and had a wood stove named Bertha for heat in the winter, fueled by wood scraps. It was very light and had a painting loft. Everywhere were mementos, trinkets, photos, clippings, etc. which he often incorporated into his pieces.”

Floyd’s long lasting impression can be seen through the sheer enormity and variety of his works, especially the ones we pass by everyday and never consciously attribute to him. 

Mellen said her father wrote his thesis for his M.A. on chemical patina for bronze and some of his samples are housed in the Delta State Archives. He was also the one who established the bronze casting foundry at Delta State in his time at the University.

“While at DSU, he was a beloved teacher, who was very close to many of his students, and a prolific artist—creating and exhibiting his work and receiving awards for his work,” said Mellen. 

According to Mellen, he exhibited his work widely in group and one-person shows across the US.

Collections across the US and other countries include: Mississippi Museum of Art, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art in Louisiana, Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Mississippi, Booth Western Art Museum in Georgia, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma, Mississippi State University, Delta State University, Delta Arts Alliance, The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Nebraska, and Robinson Carpenter Memorial Library.

“His work is also in private collections,” said Mellen. “His stone sculpture, ‘Caryatid’ is located in the DSU library, second floor. Three sculptures are located in the DSU archives foyer, his stone sculpture is located in front of the DSU art department, and he carved the pineapple over the door of the former Cleveland State Bank downtown branch.”

Floyd was a a Fellow at Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. He studied and taught at Cortona, Italy through the University of Georgia’s Study Abroad Program. He was also an artist-in-residence at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska and was commissioned by the museum to sculpt a life-sized Percheron horse which he did under the DSU football stadium. He named the sculpture “Jock”.

“I would hope the viewer would be stimulated to think.,” said Floyd in an article written by Nell Luter in a 1984 edition of The Clarion Ledger. “All the answers aren’t there. I think it’s more interesting if the viewer interprets it on some level, be it technical or whatever.”

Floyd left Delta State in 1980, and after having spent 10 years in Cleveland, the Shaman family moved into the former boarding house on Bolivar Ave in the early 1980’s.

“The Shamans very quickly made it their home,” said Lenagene Waldrup in a booklet created for the Delta Arts Alliance. “It was decorated inside and out. A highly decorated house is called a gingerbread house. The Shaman home can be called a gingerbread art gallery because it is filled with life size sculptures and other works of art. There are wooden cutouts of stars on the dining room ceiling. The trim on the outside of the house was carved by Floyd, and it was attached to the house by family members. One day at Molly’s house is not time enough to take it all in.”

According to Mellen, Floyd and Molly ran a bed and breakfast at their home for 10 years called “Molly’s Bed and Breakfast” and Floyd worked as an independent artist until his death in 2005.

“Each time you build a piece, you learn what to do and what not to do,” said Floyd in an article entitled “Artist Carves Personalities Out of Wood” in the 1984 edition of The Clarion Ledger. “The technical end of it isn’t what I think of. I consider myself an artist rather than an artisan. The idea and design are much more important than technique.”

“I am a humanist…my art is my way of dealing with people and projecting my own ideas about them in a sympathetic way,” said Floyd Shaman in an 1982 edition of The Bolivar Commercial.

Sources: 

Brown, R. (1982). In pursuit of art. The Bolivar Commercial.

Burton, M. K. (1980). Floyd shaman. Artcraft Magazine.

Casey Shaman, Son of Floyd Shaman

Chris Shaman, Son of Floyd Shaman

Clover Mellen, Daughter of Floyd Shaman

Denney, J. (1977). Stuhr’s “Trojan horse” hopes to capture the tourists. Omaha World-Herald.

Gilmore, B. (1981). Kitchen and dining room art. New York Times.

Lucas, S. (1997). Creating masterpieces with lumber, imagination. The Clarion Ledger.

Luter, N. (1984). Artist carves personalities out of wood. The Clarion Ledger.

Tenelshof, P. (1987). Artist draws from images of his life. The Clarion Ledger.

Waldrup, L. “Gene-G. (2010). Welcome… Floyd Shaman. Cleveland, MS; Delta Arts Alliance.

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