Lajean and Lee Shiney share this idea that little separates culture from agriculture. They grew up in rural Iowa and Kansas, respectively, and their histories, combined with their professions, laid the groundwork for appreciations of art and education. That culminated with the purchase of a 1960’s-era school in January, 2014 in Arcadia, Iowa. Now, there is a certain reverence for what has gone on before.
“I think about all the children who received their early education here, and it really is a humbling experience,” says Lee Shiney. All told, there have likely been a few thousand young people in the building over the last 50 years, and he almost feels a religious determination to preserve that heritage. “It was not our intention to come crashing in and do major renovations. Rather, it was important to keep an eye focused on the past, to quietly appreciate the energy that had come before us, and to appreciate the esthetic of the mid-century building itself. Plus one more thing: to continue to kindle the kind of educational processes that fuel what I make.”
His artwork is also shaped by successful cancer treatment in 2001. What grew from that experience is a desire to make machine-assisted artwork, sometimes using devices that paint automatically, and sometimes using repetitive techniques to glean a type of efficiency from the process. “Then there’s the gallery experience,” he says. In 2000 they were renting a warehouse in Wichita, Kansas and ultimately opened a guerrilla-style gallery. During that short two-year span (which included illness) numerous exhibitions took place in the Lee Shiney Gallery, but “we literally could not afford to buy the very inexpensive art we were showing for the other artists.” From that experience came the desire to somehow create accessible artwork that would be affordable “to our friends” and not just for select patrons.
Now, that goal is coming together due a happy convergence of vast space and solitude. And the accumulated energy of 50 years of young children.