Shaping an Ecological Balance
A lone buffalo stands in empty prairie with the weight of the world on its shoulders. A charcoal rendering of a puffin overlaying gray skies and deserted beach simultaneously confronts and turns its back on viewers. A partially submerged frog is swallowed by three-dimensional boggy flora. A grinning donkey is photobombed by its ghostly, cloud-like cousin lurking in the blue skies above.
LSU alumna Shelby Prindaville (MFA 2013) uses a variety of media and approaches to connect the public with her passion for preserving earth’s flora and fauna.
“I am interested in the human role in shaping an ecological balance and create images centered on the beautiful fragility and resilience of the natural world,” stated Shelby. “I want viewers to interact and emotionally connect with my work and for that experience to demonstrate the joy of contemplative engagement with nature as well as provide a taste of the sorrow a disconnect with nature can bring.”
Shelby’s naturalist subject matter is grounded in her rural Kansas roots. “I don’t know of a time when I wasn’t interested in art. Growing up, the center point of my year was submitting artwork in the local county fair,” she laughed.
Despite her interest in art, Shelby considered the pre-law undergraduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. She ended up earning a BA in fine arts with a concentration in sculpture while taking random law classes, participating in the debate society, and completing legally-focused internships. After graduation, Shelby worked in a business environment where she realized she didn’t want that kind of lifestyle—sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle, all day, every day. Seeking a more active, engaged profession and more time to work on her art, she decided to pursue an MFA in painting and drawing at LSU in the hopes of becoming a professor of art.
While in graduate school at LSU, she began experimenting with light relief works in her painting, which led to her collaboration with LSU chemistry professor John A. Pojman. They worked together to develop 3P QuickCure Clay, a cure-on-demand polymer clay for artists. 3P QuickCure Clay cures after being heated with a heat gun, allowing artists all the time they need to sculpt. Shelby frequently integrates QuickCure clay into her relief paintings and sculptures.
“It’s a cool medium with interesting properties,” said Shelby. “It’s also great for classrooms as you don’t need to wait for a kiln firing.”
While nearing graduation from LSU, Shelby did her research. She learned that roughly four percent of qualified artists seeking full-time professorships receive appointments. With that statistical difficulty in mind, Shelby applied to more than 100 professorships worldwide and was ultimately selected as the art program director and assistant professor of art at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. USM is small school with approximately 1,400 students across two campuses, so the art faculty at Saint Mary can’t be too tightly specialized in any one medium, Shelby explained. She teaches a wide range of classes, “which is one of the reasons why I haven’t moved on. I prefer teaching a wide variety of media; otherwise it gets repetitive. In larger schools, you might have to teach three sections of the same class. Here, sometimes I only teach a particular class once every two years. It helps me keep a fresh perspective on current trends in all the areas.” Having smaller class sizes with repeat students is another benefit. “USM is a teaching-focused school, which means I have the time to really get to know each of my students. I enjoy the balance of teaching during the school year and working on my artistic practice during the academic breaks.”
Shelby’s artwork has been exhibited in a variety of national and international venues, including Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Kansas City, Baton Rouge, Fort Worth, and Los Angeles. In 2015, Shelby was chosen by the World Wildlife Fund as a featured tour artist within the Art Works for Change’s curated exhibition, Footing the Bill: Art and Our Ecological Footprint, for her artwork capturing the beauty and frailty of the natural world.
Shelby has been awarded a variety of grants, prizes, and international and domestic residencies, including month-long residencies at Gullkistan in Laugarvatn, Iceland; Sachaqa Centro de Arte in San Roque, Peru; and Nau Côclea in Camallera, Spain. Because of her subject matter, Shelby prefers residencies in rural, agrarian, or natural places. In summer 2016, she was awarded a five-week residency at La Maison Verte of the Jardin Botanique de Marnay-sur-Seine in France.
Shelby credits the interdisciplinary fine arts program and her connections at LSU for her success. “LSU was good to me and definitely helped me get to where I am now.”
View more of Shelby’s work at shelbyprindaville.com.