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Margaret Zundel Shirley ’55

January 25, 2019, in Portland, Oregon, of natural causes.

Margaret was a respected Northwest artist and a beloved art teacher for more than 40 years, inspiring students at Reed, Portland State University, Mt. Hood Community College, and Marylhurst University.

As a child, she read profusely, made her own clothes, and did chores on the family acreage near Astoria, Oregon. She came to Reed—followed by her brother, David Zundel ’56—and earned a BA in sociology, writing her thesis, “A Content Analysis of the Novels and Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” with Prof. Howard Jolly [sociology 1949–70]. Margaret went on to get her BFA at Yale University, where she was influenced by modernism and the color theory of Josef Albers, and did printmaking and etching with Gabor Peterdi. At Portland State University, she earned a master’s in teaching as well as an MFA. Working with artist Mel Katz at PSU, she found freedom in the abstract form. It let her focus on connections and relationships, “without getting bogged down in representational issues.”

Margaret’s initial work was pencil and graphite on paper, drawn with a T square as a guide. “The cumulative effect of her shimmering graphite rainbows hybridized the airy visual trickery of Op Art with the cool certainty of Zen meditation,” noted an Oregonian review.

Interested in the polarities between planning and accident, order and randomness, she began meticulous hand stitching on canvas, and made works that combined layers of paint, pencil, gravel, and other natural elements to heighten the sense of texture and natural color. 

“My intent has been to find art processes which reflect and enhance those of nature, creating a coherent visual whole,” she said. “I have hoped to create works in which the natural and abstract elements illuminate and enhance each other.”

Margaret’s work was exhibited in Portland’s Russo Lee Gallery and in group exhibitions throughout the country. In 2011, a 30-year retrospective of her work was exhibited at Reed’s Feldenheimer Gallery, curated by Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art 1994–], who met Margaret when she taught at Reed for a year beginning in 1995. For decades, Margaret served on the faculty at PSU and Marylhurst University, where she earned an excellence in teaching award in 2004.

She is survived by her daughter, Jennifer Shirley; her stepdaughters, Tory Shirley-Parker, Stephanie McGuigan, and Marybeth Olmstead, daughter of her late partner, Vern Olmstead; and her partner, Hugh Wilson.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2019

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