art for everyone. every monday morning.

Shirley Aley Campbell • american (1925-2018)

Drawing of the Human Condition #2, #4, #5 C: 1980 • Ink / Conte Crayon on Paper 10-1/2” x 12-3/4”

Shirley Aley Campbell’s world was always just a few degrees off the straight and narrow. When you are only nine years old and your father leaves the family for another woman, you can grow up bitter or with a deeper understanding of human frailties. Shirley Aley Campbell embraced the human condition, just as she found it.

With a broken family, she went through childhood on the “All-Chip-In-Family-Plan”. Two uncles, both Methodist ministers, provided the spiritual compass. Another aunt nurtured a curious mind with weekly trips through the magical -- and free -- Cleveland Art Museum. Soon she was in the Talented Children’s art class, taught by the man who changed her life. 

If you are a teacher doubting the impact you can have on children’s lives, listen to 91-year old Shirley Aley Campbell recall Milton J. Fox. “I remember him asking me ‘ What did you see today?’ ‘Snow everywhere,’ I said. ‘Paint it’ he said, and so I did.” The rest of her life she looked closely, painted passionately and learned to love life and the human condition in all its complexity.  

By the time she graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, married her college sweetheart, spent 3 years in New York City, and returned to Cleveland, Shirley Aley Campbell had become an inveterate people-watcher with a special affinity for fringe characters. Where other people visited the Roxy Burlesque Theatre to laugh and ogle, Shirley saw the performers’ suffering and captured it on canvas.

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Soon she was leading a troupe of interesting friends across Short Vincent into a world of Guys and Dolls. There was a Catholic priest who removed his vestments to mingle with lost souls and Helen Cullanen, Cleveland’s society doyenne. So began a lifetime of painting colorful underdogs. Prostitutes and gamblers. Worn-out workers and wiseguys. Hells Angels and motorcycle racers. Lots of motorcycle racers.

Shirley’s Hell’s Angel paintings caught the eye of Cleveland car dealer and art collector, Joe Erdelac, who squired Shirley and her young daughter, through Europe to capture the excitement of motorcycle racing

Shirley Aley Campbell loves everything about life, finding beauty in unappreciated corners of society. It has been a life well lived, to the accompaniment of a deep, baritone saxophone laugh. And, now in her ninth decade, she is like a salmon swimming upstream. The finish is less important than the magnificent effort.

Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • In Memory of Jim Matin from his many friends 2011.11, 12, 13


4 Ways to Sound Smart When Viewing at The Canton Museum of Art

“She always admired humanity just the way she found it. And she went to some interesting places to find it. You don’t paint hookers in yuppie bars.”

“She once said that composition was the key to her art. It appears that interesting, underdog characters were the key to her heart.”

“After seeing her paintings of Hell’s Angels, a Cleveland art collector sent her on a trip to Europe to paint motorcycle racers who looked nothing at all like Hell’s Angels.”

“She once won First Prize three years in a row at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s prestigious May Show. If Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, she was Ms. May.”


Campbell Timeline. Scroll over images to see timeline.