SHAVERTRON INTERVIEW

Self Portrait

Evelyn Ann Shaver Gurvitch Bryant

Richard Toronto

Editor's note: Evelyn Ann Shaver has been a key figure missing from the story of Richard S. Shaver's life. The last time Shaver saw Evelyn was when she was two years old; after that he was committed to an asylum and Evelyn was spirited away by her maternal grandparents and told that her father was dead. Shaver often thought of Evelyn, and tried to contact her, but to no avail.

Like her mother Sophie and father Richard, Evelyn picked up art as a life-long pursuit and career. Evelyn's story was recounted in our book War Over Lemuria, but to recap: when her mother was accidentally electrocuted in 1936, Evelyn's maternal grandparents adopted her. This made for a confusing situation where her grandparents were now her parents and her aunts her sisters.

In any case, as Paul Harvey would say, this is "The Rest of the Story." This is what was happening while Shaver was embroiled in the Shaver Mystery, farming in Wisconsin, and finally in Arkansas researching the rock books, never knowing what you will learn in the interview that follows.

The art on this page was graciously supplied by Evelyn.


Evelyn visits her father's grave near Summit, Arkansas, 2003.




RT

Did you gravitate to art naturally or did your family expect you to fill your mother's shoes when it came to your career?

EA

Both. I was noticed even in kindergarten. I remember painting a picture of a giraffe with a stoplight. I remember that picture. They called my grandmother and told her that I was talented in art.


Three-legged Stool


RT

So they decided you would take on your mother's legacy?

EA

They were hoping, because she was their favorite daughter; their first. I was just two when she died. I went to kindergarten three years after she died.


Judaica


RT

That leads into my next question. At the time she died you were in the hospital with scarlet fever...

EA

And I picked up chicken pox while I was in the hospital!


Generations


RT

How and when did you find out she had died?

EA

I was always at my grandmothers anyway, because my mother was always working. I remember a particular incident. My sister Rose and I were in the bathroom while she was putting on her makeup. I said to her "Could I please go home? I'll be right back." I remember feeling very guilty. I don't remember my mother; I don't remember our home; I don't recall a thing about it. I do remember that incident, though.

RT

What did she say to you?

EA

Nothing, really. At two years old, what do you know about death, anyway? I wasn't going home. I remember when I was in first grade, we were outside and a little girl said to me, "Your mother is up there," and she looked up at the sky. I looked up. It was snowing. I didn't see her at all.


Woman and Gargoyle



Untitled


RT

When did you know you wanted to make art your life's work?

EA

I was always drawing. I was sent to sleep-away camp every summer. It was a Jewish camp. We were living in a gentile area and I didn't have any Jewish friends at all. So my grandmother signed me up for nine summers in a row. There were three sessions to camp and my grandparents paid for one session. The rest was on scholarship. When I was around seven or eight, there was a counselor who used to take me sketching. She said, "Now when you go to high school, be sure to go to Cass Tech, it has a really good art department." I didn't know what that was, just that it was a high school.

One day in junior high school, they announced over the loudspeaker, "Anybody who wants to go to Cass Tech go to room such-and-such." I signed up, not knowing exactly what I was signing up for, other than that I knew they had an art department. It was probably the best high school Detroit had at the time.

RT

What artists were you drawn to--the ones that influenced you when you got serious about becoming an artist?

EA

Van Gogh and Breugel the Elder. As a child I used to read a lot of fairy tales and was influenced by the illustrations in them. There is something in art that the Germans call gedenken materai (thinking material). It is when you look at your picture and you read it. Printing was an important development. A lot of German art came out of book illustration. Art in a book, rather than on a wall.

RT

When did you move out of your grandparents' flat above Star Hardware and Paint?

EA

Well, it doesn't go like that. My grandfather died when I was around 14. He was ill with cancer for about a year and in that year my sister Rose decided it would be better if I moved into her neighborhood, so I went to a school in a Jewish neighborhood for the eighth and ninth grade. I lived with Rose for those two years. When I went to high school my grandmother had already sold the hardware store and had moved into the west side of Detroit, which at that time was predominantly Jewish. I lived with her during the three years I attended Cass Tech.

I really started becoming interested in art in earnest in high school, but I'd been drawing a lot before then. That was before television, during the years of radio's predominance. Later I designed the yearbook cover in junior high school. I was excused from going to gym classes so I could go to the art room and work there; a special dispensation. My talent was recognized at that time, too.

RT

Did you receive any scholarships to university?

EA

In a way I did, because I went to Wayne State University for one year. I was exploring what I wanted to do. Going to art school had been a consideration. I took a year of liberal arts classes at Wayne. I heard from one of my art teachers at Cass that there was a school in New York that did not have tuition. That was Cooper Union. I applied and went there to take a test and out of about 600 who took the test, 97 got in, and I was one of them. It was an intelligence and general knowledge test as well as a space perception test. I had to go there twice; I thought I'd failed the first part. The second half of the test was "performance," that was a snap. I went back home only to find that I had passed.
Cooper Union was a very famous school. Abraham Lincoln spoke there once. It had one of the first elevators.

I went to Cooper Union for two years. I was working but I didn't have enough money to live. I wrote to my sister Rose to ask for financial help. Rose had just been married. Her husband had a business. They were putting all their money into it. No one could send me any money at the time. I returned to Detroit after two years at Cooper Union. I lived with Rose while I went to Wayne State University. That's when I studied to become an art teacher. I knew I had to prepare for something. I had to be independent..


Youth on a Dragon


RT

What grade levels did you teach?

EA

My first teaching job was in an all-girls junior high school in Harlem in New York. After one year I returned to Detroit. I then taught the elementary level for two years. Upon moving to Los Angeles I taught in both junior high and senior high school.

RT

You grew up being told your father was dead. How did you become aware that your father was still alive?

EA

While I was at Wayne U. I was married to an Iraqi Jew. We were married for two years. I found out he had married me to get into the U.S. and to become a naturalized citizen. That was how I found out my father was still alive. We had to fill out my husband's naturalization questionaire. This was in the late 1950s. The paperwork asked for the birth and death dates of my father. My family was all gathered together as we were making out the papers. So I asked, when was my father born. No one knew. Okay, when did he die? "Well, we have something to tell you." It had been the big family secret all this time, claiming he was dead, but he wasn't really dead. They just did not want him to take me.

RT

So now that your grandfather was gone and you were an adult, there was no point in keeping the secret?

EA

I don't think my grandfather was an issue. My grandmother was so funny about it. She said, "Well you know, he wasn't Jewish."

I didn't do much investigation, but I did write to Ionia to request a forwarding address. They gave me an address in Pennsylvania. I wrote to the postmaster in Barto, who replied there was no such address. That kind of ended it all because I didn't know where to go from there. I was still a student at that time.

RT

How did it make you feel when you heard your dad had been alive all those years you were growing up?

EA

You know, I kind of knew it, down deep in my heart. They told me he'd died of sunstroke.


Caught


RT

What happened then?

EA

After my first marriage ended, I wanted to go back to New York because it had been very exciting to be there. I lived there a year and that's when I taught school in Harlem. Subsequently, any job that I had after that wasn't quite as hard. That job hooked me on teaching. I was so surprised that I really liked it. All I wanted was a job where I didn't have to sit down and do boring things; where I could receive a living wage, and where I could move and still be able to work.

Then I moved back to Detroit and taught one year in Harper Woods, a suburb of Detroit, and one year in another elementary school in Detroit. When a man I was then involved with graduated from university and decided to move to California, I ultimately followed him. We were married there. I got a job with the Los Angeles Public Schools. I lived there for nine years.

I have a hard time remembering numbers, so I remember the places I've lived by decades. In the 60s I was in California. The '70s I was in Israel. In the '80s I lived in downtown Detroit. And by the '90s I had bought a house and was living in Oak Park. Give or take a year here or there.

RT

I don't get the feeling that you were quite as politically involved as your mother was.

EA

No, however, I was taught in no uncertain terms by my grandmother that women can do anything men can do. My grandmother had been a communist sympathizer until Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, or was it Hungary? Aafter that the family's politics were more neutral. The McCarthy era did it's part as well.

RT

Was your stay in Israel to work or to study?

EA

At this time, I separated from and divorced my second husband. It was time to move on. I wanted to forget him, and to go somewhere we had never been together.

RT

Did you teach there?

EA

Yes. I taught art at all levels there. I ended up teaching at a high school similar to Cass Tech. I taught drawing and painting to architecture students.

RT

You returned to Detroit in the 1980s. Were you tired of living in Israel?

EA

No! While I was in Israel my grandmother died. I knew that she had put all her effort into raising me, so I thought it was time to get back. She was the most important person in my life. My sister Rose was taking care of her sick husband, and she'd taken care of my grandmother for a while, and then my aunt Evelyn, who was getting older as well. She was just taking care of everybody. She told me she was scared; I guess because she was getting older and couldn't take all of that any more. She raised three children, too. So I said, I guess it's time to go back.

I didn't really want to leave Israel and I was depressed for about three years when I got back. I certainly wasn't my old self. I was living in Ann Arbor with Rose for a while, and then got a job in Detroit and moved back there.

RT

I know you then had a second wave of research to find your dad.

EA

It started in Israel when I went to a bookstore. I bought a book that was full of cover art from science fiction pulp magazines from the U.S. I thought maybe my father was in there somewhere. I looked at the art. There was nothing of my father's there, but I didn't read the text. When I got home I was telling a friend that I was looking for my father, but he wasn't in the book. She said, "Did you read the text?" I said no. That's when I read the text, and there he was. I wrote the publisher, saying that I was Richard Shaver's daughter and never knew him but I would like to learn more about him. That's when the publisher told me that he had died just three years before.

RT

You later drove to Marjorie Palmer's home in Amherst. Can you give a synopsis of your trip there?

EA

My aunt Evelyn had been in and out of the hospital. I didn't feel I could leave her, but this time she was going to be in the hospital for the weekend. I was already in touch with Marjorie. She invited me to stay for the weekend. When I arrived, Ray junior was there, and they had a slide projector set up to show me slides of my father and of Ray Palmer. At first she looked at me and said, "No, you're not your father's daughter," because I look like my mother. Then I showed Marjorie some slides that I had brought of my work. She said, "Oh my god, you ARE your father's daughter!" I took her out to dinner that evening and we talked. Later she showed me the house that he had lived in and told me that he had baby sat her children. One of things that she said to me was, "You know, he wasn't crazy. I left my children with him. There was no problem at all. The only thing was that he heard voices." She was a lovely lady.

RT

Do you recall anything about the way your dad's farm looked at that time?

EA

The house may have been there, but everything was built up around it.

RT

You also visited your dad's stone cottage in Summit in the early 2000s.

EA

Yes, I was told the house had been a roadside stand. It was so darn small! It was claustrophobic. The owners told me that he had paneled the living room with this wood paneling. There were images in it. They [the current owners] had a copy of The Secret World. She showed me a place on the wall where a pattern might have inspired a painting he had done. It was convincing to me.

RT

Are you still creating art?

EA

Not at the present time. When I began teaching in Detroit, after my return from Isreal, I substituted for about six years. I was then laid-off for a year and a half. During this time, I enrolled in the Art Department at Wayne State in an attempt to get a masters degree in printmaking. I later swtitched my major to drawing. I was living in the downtown area in a Mies Van der Rohe building. the apartment had very laarge windows facing the north-east. The light was wonderful! I did some very good work there, especially when I was laid off.
I was called back to work in a real art job, teaching at Mumford High School. I moved to a house in Oak Park. I set up one bedroom as a studio.
Here, things were different.
I spent long hours on lessons and grades and did a lot of art for the school. All these were outside the time in the classroom. This was work for which most art teachers are never paid! I had neither the energy nor the time to do my own work. I never completed the masters degree.
Upon retiring in 2000, I tried to go back to my work. By this time, my cats had rendered the studio impossible to work in.
I seem to have lost the fire that had burned so brightly before. The studio is still in a shambles.This is where I am today. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a change.


back