Alumna Profile

Margaret Zundel Shirley ’55

Margaret Shirley’s work from 1979 to 2010 lined the gallery walls in Studio Arts in late summer.

Abstract Artist

By Laurie Lindquist

Portland artist Margaret Shirley’s work of 30 years was joined for the first time in Retrospective, an exhibition at Reed’s Feldenheimer Gallery. The show was curated by Professor Gerri Ondrizek [art 1994–], who met Margaret in 1995 when she taught at Reed. “She has great energy and is an inspired teacher.”

Margaret grew up in Astoria, reading profusely, making her clothes, and doing chores on the family acreage. An admirable thrift directed her home then, as now. She came to Reed with her brother, David Zundel ’56, and earned a BA in sociology. An interest in fine arts took her to 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 an MS in teaching and an MFA, working with artist Mel Katz and finding freedom in the abstract form, which let her focus on connections and relationships, “without getting bogged down in representational issues.”

The patience and attention to detail she acquired in childhood were fundamental to her art. Her initial work—pencil and graphite on paper, drawn with a T square as a guide—was followed by a more labor-intensive period that included meticulous hand stitching on canvas. She then sought materials of a greater visual complexity for her collages that united disparate textures such as an iron grate and magnolia stamens. Recently she harmonized what she studied and what she liked to look at. More plant material, which she outlined and replicated in intricate detail, entered her work. “Modernism is about the honesty of materials and the process of creating them,” she says.

For decades Margaret has served on the faculty at PSU and Marylhurst University, where she received the excellence in teaching award in 2004. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions in Oregon, Washington, and California.