Virginia Shackles, painter of vivid scenery, dies at 99

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Virginia Shackles, painter of vivid scenery, dies at 99
In a family photo, Virginia Shackles, a watercolor painter, celebrating her 99th birthday on Dec. 4, 2020. Shackles loved to paint cliffs and ocean scenes in the coastal city of Monterey, Calif. She died of complications of Covid-19 on Dec. 16. Family photo via The New York Times.

by Christina Morales

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Virginia Shackles was painting a foggy scene on canvas one day when she gave her young grandson a lesson in how to make infinite colors with different blends of shades. Colors don’t exist only in a box of crayons, she told him.

Using photos, sketches and postcards from trips, Shackles painted elaborate scenes with oil and watercolors throughout her life. She often included her grandson on her inspiration-seeking travels, part of her effort to expose him to the world.

Shackles died Dec. 16 at the Riverview at the Park nursing home in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. The cause was complications of COVID-19, her daughter Paula Dustman said.

Shackles celebrated her 99th birthday at the nursing home Dec 4, without family but with cards and her favorite dark chocolate cake. The next day, as she was painting a watercolor landscape, a nurse interrupted to inform her that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She was transferred to a ward in the home with other COVID-19 patients, where she died.

Virginia Frances Turner was born in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, to Wyotte Dellavan Turner, a piano salesman, and Frances (Land) Turner. She moved to California with her parents as a young girl.

Shackles, in her 20s, took care of her mother, who had rheumatoid arthritis. Her mother’s ailment moved Shackles to convert to Catholicism, where she found meaning in her mother’s pain and her own experience of it, according to Shackles’ daughter Rosemary Valeska.

Shackles worked in a store that supplied religious items for Catholic churches and met her husband, Frank J. Shackles, there. They married in 1950. Virginia Shackles also worked as an advertising representative for a local newspaper.

After his death in 1976, Shackles felt lonely as she learned to navigate her life without her husband. She never remarried.

After Valeska became a single mother in Monterey, California, Shackles moved in with her in 1983, helping take care of her grandson, Alex Goldberg, while Valeska had a job as an office assistant in Monterey City Hall’s planning department, often working late into the night.

In addition to Dustman and Valeska, Shackles is survived by another daughter, Teresa Cruise; a son, Stephen Shackles; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Goldberg recalled that his grandmother taught him to appreciate things more often savored by adults, including bitter dark chocolate and opera. She took him on trips to the Monterey Peninsula and on long bus rides to Big Sur, a rugged coast in central California. Shackles was drawn to the Monterey coastline and inspired to paint it, her family said.

“She was painting the scenery of my childhood,” Goldberg said. “It’s all these places and things we experienced together.”

Shackles believed in her artwork and heartily defended it. At a fair, she entered a piece in which she experimented with gloomy colors, using a dark branch as her piece’s subject. The judges tried to disqualify her, telling her that she had entered it in the wrong category. She felt she had been wronged, Goldberg said.

“It was like watching a coach yell at an umpire,” he said.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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