The Art of Don Shull: Whirligigs, Carvings & Masks


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Art needs to be a species of the carnivalesque—an appeal to simple wonder. And thankfully, wonderfully, here we go. — Nashville Arts

Inspired by folk art and the world around him, Shull’s carvings and whirligigs put an unusual, humorous spin on everyday people doing everyday things . . . — The Tennesseean

The full color art book Don Shull: Whirligigs and Carvings & Masks, published in collaboration, with Elephant Gallery presents a collection of Shull's sculptures that spans 25 years, including 35 whirligigs, around 90 carved figures, 10 paper-mache animal heads, and one large-scale praying mantis riding a full-sized bicycle. The Elephant Gallery hosted an exhibition marking the first time his work has been gathered together and put on display in one place. Elephant Gallery & Third Man Books worked together to create this monograph book to document Shull's work from 1992-1995.

A portion of sales from this book will benefit the the elephant gallery.

Don Shull was born in a barn in Mt. Pulaski, Illinois, in 1934. He grew up on a farm and after graduating high school in 1952, he took a job in Lincoln, Illinois delivering furniture. He met his wife Sandy and they eloped on July 14th 1954, the hottest day in Illinois history. They started a family, raising four children.

Around 1990, Don and Sandy began collecting folk art while traveling from Illinois to visit their son Randy in North Carolina. Don was suddenly compelled to connect his mechanical skill with his imagination and sense of humour in his own work. He set up a wood shop in the garage and and started “puttering,” as his wife calls it. From 1992-1995, he became obsessed with whirligigs. These mechanical wind-powered sculptures are, together, a self-portrait of Don Shull. He made them alone, for himself and from himself. He carved and animated his daily tasks, his hobbies, his natural environment and his absurd and beautiful take on the world around him.

In the late 1990s, the whirligigs were put away in the attic as Don immersed himself in making more detailed figurative carvings—a body of work that continues to this day. Typically made of basswood, most of these are hollow, functional coin banks with creative slots. Don has carved runners, workers, nude women, and seated men passing gas. Famous faces including Albert Einstein, the Obamas, and Paris Hilton make carved appearances.

Third Man Records