In Memoriam, Susan Shirley (1950 – 2019)

Mat183-SusanShirley, Building with Fret work

Susan Shirley – Building with Fretwork, 1999

In light of the passing of American-born painter Susan Shirley in October 2019, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) recognizes her for her contribution to the visual arts community. 

Born in 1950, Michigan, USA, she was formally trained at Michigan State University (MSU) where she earned her degree in Design at the College of Human Ecology with a Minor in Fine Art. After completing her studies she worked as a commercial Interior Designer in Detroit, Michigan, specializing in Architectural Renderings and Presentation.

Mrs. Shirley made Jamaica her home in 1976 after migrating to the island with her Jamaican husband, Greg Shirley. Determined to make a positive impact in Jamaica through her passion for art, she continued free-lance design and was encouraged by Grenadian sculptor Fitz Harrack, whom she met as a colleague while teaching art at the Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) in Kingston. Mrs. Shirley held and participated in many solo and group exhibitions throughout her career, including her participation in the 2004 Jamaica National Biennial exhibition. Among her repertoire of exhibitions, she has showcased her works in places such as Toronto, Antigua, Miami and New York. Within the art community in Jamaica, she is particularly known for her still-life studies, as well as her detailed watercolour works of old Jamaican houses. One example of the latter is Building with Fret Work, which was included in the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon donation to the NGJ permanent collection in 1999. 

Shirley’s lifetime passions included volunteer projects that appealed to her interest in history, archaeology and art. One perfect example of that was demonstrated when she championed for the restoration of the Rio Nuevo Battle Site in St. Mary, enamoured with that aspect of Jamaican history. Alongside her husband, she enthusiastically presented a case on the significance of the Battle site, the Rio Nuevo Battle Site Association was awarded the management agreement by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in August 2004 and Mrs. Shirley was appointed Curator of the Rio Nuevo Battle Site museum.

The NGJ’s Board of Directors, management and staff remembers Susan Shirley for her commitment to preserving aspects of Jamaican heritage and the value she added to the visual arts community. 

For Further Reading:

Shirley, Susan. “Biography” 

“10 Things You Didn’t Know About Susan Shirley.” The Gleaner, January 13, 2013. 

Silvera, Janet. “Susan Shirley: A Passion For Preserving Jamaica’s History.” The Gleaner, May 26, 2013.    

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