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How Judith Shaw Turned Construction Zone Angst Into Art

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Provided by Judith Shaw
Judith Shaw, left, relied on construction workers to help her bring unique prints to tar paper.

For the past five years, Judith Shaw has lived on the edge of a massive construction project. That’s no exaggeration. Her condo sits on the perimeter of Centene’s $770 million Clayton campus expansion — a mixed-used development that will ultimately include housing, retail and more than 1.5 million square feet of office space.

Like a lot of neighbors, Shaw found herself frustrated by the heavy machinery, dust and debris. But rather than let her anger simmer, Shaw turned it into art.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Shaw explained how her show now on display at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild was directly inspired by the work being done just outside her balcony. A self-trained artist who often makes sculptures from found objects, Shaw used the tire tracks on the construction site as the basis for a series of photos and prints she calls “fault lines.”

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Provided by Judith Shaw
Artist Judith Shaw's "fault lines" was inspired by, and created within, the massive Centene campus expansion just outside her condo's balcony.

As her show materials explain, “Shaw spotted an array of intricate tire patterns created by the huge machinery moving about the construction site. Awed by the inground sketches left by the tires, she stopped to admire the tracks and has been doing so ever since.” After trying out a few different materials, she began reproducing them on tar paper.

The towering patterns now mounted on the St. Louis Artists’ Guild’s walls for “fault lines” aren’t the only felicitous outcome to an initially unhappy event. Shaw has formed a special bond with the workers on site.

“I have a bunch of friends now who are flaggers,” she said. The site is a busy one, and after Shaw began working on the prints, she exchanged numbers with those new friends and began to text them to find a good time to come down. When she did, they’d help her get what she needed.

“They were very concerned about safety,” she said. “Some of the time, I couldn’t actually get the paper under the wheels of the truck. So, they would help me.”

Now, Shaw said, they’ve formed a special bond.

Just this morning, for example, she and her favorite flagger shared photos of their grandchildren. “He became a grandfather recently, and I became a grandmother recently, and we were talking about it. We talk about our families, and what’s going on in our lives, and what’s going on in our world.”

She added: “At some point it went from them helping me to us becoming partners and collaborators on this project. They became part of the art. A lot of them had ideas and suggestions. They’d say, ‘What if we did this?’ And I’d say, ‘Try it.’ I grew to appreciate the artistry and skill in what they were doing, even though it was truly a constant source of frustration. I began to appreciate the art of construction.”

Related Event

What: “fault lines” at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild

When: Through Sept. 12

Where: 12 N. Jackson Ave., Clayton, Mo. 63105

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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