Recreating adventure

The paintings on the wall distill a lifetime of experiences from around the world.

A woman steps outside of her brightly colored house in the Dominican Republic. A bicyclist, his back laden with packages and goods, pedals through a northeast Chinese city.

Boats tied up along a wharf seem to bob in the surf. A figure pushes through the gray-blue gloom in a rowboat.

The scenes bring to life the adventures of Nancy Shake.

“I want to recreate those feelings that I had when I was there,” she said.

Shake has dedicated her entire life to artistic creativity. She taught art for more than 40 years, helping kindergartners discover their love of art and preparing college students for their eventual careers.

But at the core of her life has been her own creativity. During a September-long exhibition at the Southside Art League gallery, Shake has unveiled that focus through paintings.

“I would really like for people to go through the journeys with me, to see the different people and different places and different scenery, to have those experiences right there in the paintings,” she said. “I want them to feel how I did the first time I saw these things.”

In her Center Grove-area home, Shake has set aside a small room as her studio. With windows on three sides, overlooking a pond in back, it’s an ideal place for her to set up her easel and work on her latest piece.

She paints every single day, thinking back to the situations and experiences she had when she took a photograph. Those emotions and feelings are transposed on the canvas.

Her paintings come together in layers. She starts with a foundation of shade, shape and color, then builds on top of that before finalizing the piece with fine detail.

“She’s very, very talented in many different media, and she seems to be able to handle all of those things. She does oils, watercolor, mixed media, prints, jewelry,” said Bev Mathis, an artist and painting instructor at the Southside Art League. “ She’s very versatile.”

Travel has been central to Shake’s inspiration.

Often, she arranged the trips through summer teaching programs, so she and her son, Ryan, could go on adventures together.

“We used to say that we had the ‘itchy feet’ and it was time to go someplace again,” she said.

Shake has been to Italy, France, London and Greece to see the greatest art in history. In the Dominican Republic, she found the bright colors and stylized version of life compelling.

While in China teaching, she traveled on weekends to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and other southeastern Asian countries.

Her wandering offered perspective, new insight and fresh subjects to paint.

One time, she was in China looking for a particular building to photograph. Her search led her to what looked like a park, where crowds of people were gathering.

She followed them in, where hundreds of people were doing tai chi, playing mahjong, or singing.

“To me, some of those are the most amazing things. You’re off the beaten path finding something new,” she said. “It turned out to be a wonderful day, all because I was looking for some building.”

Art has been part of Shake’s life for as long as she can remember. Her father was an artist, and passed his love on to his daughter. She studied painting and other media at Arlington High School, working on a project with her senior class in 1964 doing murals for the children’s wing in Community Hospital.

When she enrolled at Indiana University, Shake was torn between two fields of study. She either wanted to do art or biology.

“I really enjoyed biology in high school. But I decided what I liked best was the drawing part, looking through the microscope or dissecting and then drawing what I saw,” she said.

Shake decided to use her artistic ability to be an art teacher, giving her more job security than just painting alone.

She started teaching art in 1969, retiring two years ago. For 25 years, she was an art instructor for Center Grove schools before leaving to teach students at an international school in China.

“The enthusiasm, before they start critiquing their work, they just enjoy it. And you enjoy it — it brings back your youth,” she said. “Then the older students, seeing them so excited to go into a field, is totally different from the little ones.”

Shake taught a little bit of everything in her classes. She did mosaic tableau and boutique wax, watercolor and oil and acrylic.

“The kids always enjoyed me doing these things, because I’d come back the next year and they’d want to know what I’ve added,” she said. “We’d try it at least once, and if it was good, we might do it again.”

If you go

Nancy Shake art exhibition

Opening reception: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5

Where: Southside Art League gallery, 299 E. Broadway St., Greenwood

Exhibition: On display from Saturday to Sept. 26

Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

Cost: Free


Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.