Remembering James Shipman

On a sunny day in November 2020, Upp Sr. and Pittsburgh poetry legend Michael Wurster attended James Shipman's memorial in the prolific sculptor's outdoor sculpture garden. Despite the obvious sorrow of everyone gathered, it felt natural to celebrate a life that enriched so many others. As part of that celebration James' family, colleagues, and friends shared with each other their memories of James and what he meant to them. Again and again, the word "collaboration" surfaced—so much so that later speakers remarked on its prevalence and how it's one of James' unique gifts. The following is an approximate recreation of what Upp Sr. felt moved to contribute.

James—or Mr. Shipman, as I knew him—taught my 9th-grade sculpture class. I didn't quite belong anywhere at that creative and performing arts high school because writing was my talent and they didn't yet have a creative writing department. Mr. Shipman did a great job teaching me, even though I was just OK at visual art and not very good at sculpting. He always related to me as a valued fellow artist.

We didn't know each other well, but our lives kept intersecting every so often and it was always about collaboration. I felt honored years later to be part of the Fission of Form exhibit* that he was instrumental in creating. It's still one of the coolest things I've ever done. When the exhibit wrapped up, James gave my son the sculpture he contributed; we still have it and look at it often.


A year later the barriers to collaboration we all faced, rather than disappearing, have morphed to become scarier in some ways. And in this issue of Uppagus, we're honored to feature the results of another James Shipman collaboration—this one with poet Walt Peterson. Please enjoy, and see you next time.

*The link goes to the website of a fellow Fission of Form participant I don't know. I remember her painting, though, and chose this link because she feels the same way I do about having the chance to be part of the project.

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