Title of Work
Clem "Pop" Shaffer and Driftwood Charley
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
About Clem "Pop" Shaffer:
Clem “Pop” Shaffer was born in 1880 in Harmony, Indiana. He attended school until the age of thirteen, when he withdrew to help his father in his blacksmith’s shop. In 1902 he married his first wife, Pearl Brown, with whom he had two children. He moved to the newly founded town of Mountainair, New Mexico with Pearl and their children in 1908. There Pearl contracted pneumonia and passed away in 1911 and their children were sent to live with Pearl’s family. Shaffer then married his second wife, Lena, in 1912. Shaffer originally worked as a blacksmith and refurbished old buggies on the side before selling Oldsmobiles when blacksmithing fell out of fashion.
In 1922, Shaffer’s house burnt down, leading him and his wife to build a hotel to live in and manage. The hotel was most well-known for its bright decorations. The outside of the hotel was decorated with several swastikas, originally a symbol of prosperity before its appropriation by the Nazi Party. Inside was a large dining room, painted in bright colors and designs inspired by Native American culture. In 1931, Shaffer also built a decorative stone fence around the hotel. By the 1930s, Shaffer struggled with heart issues and most of the work of running the hotel was done by his wife, Lena.
The couple then acquired a 240-acre farm known as “Rancho Bonito” where they produced meat, dairy products, and produce for their hotel. According to Shaffer, he was first inspired one summer afternoon 1939 when he noticed a calf in a tree on the farm. The calf was actually a piece of gnarled wood which resembled the animal. Shaffer then began to notice the shapes of various animals in the trees around the property, which he would cut down and carve or paint. Shaffer claimed that nature did most of the world and that he just finished it. Over time, he amassed a collection of around 300 animal sculptures which he showed in a “zoo” on the farm.
Shaffer’s animal sculptures appeared in several magazines such as Life and Family Circle and were written about by the journalist Ernie Pyle. Shaffer never sold his sculptures and only rarely gave them out as gifts. He notably gave sculptures to both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eisenhower, as well as the Vice President Nixon. He wrote an unofficial autobiography in 1958 titled The Trials and Tribulations and Glory of Clem ‘Pop’ Shaffer, the Village Blacksmith. Shaffer died in 1964 of a heart-attack, after which his wife sold most of his sculptures to nearby oddity shops and museums. Five of the buildings at Rancho Bonito were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Digitally preserved 2021.
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