Shirley Staschen Triest Biography

Shirley Staschen Triest




Shirley Adena Staschen Triest was born in Oakland, California on July 29, 1914. She graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, where she had enrolled in art classes, and went on to study at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute as well as studying independently.

As a young artist she embraced both Marxism and the Social Realist art movement with its idealized depiction of working people. During this early period she met and was influenced by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. In 1937 or 1938 she applied and was hired to work on the WPA Federal Art Project in San Francisco. The first project she worked on was the Lithography Project at 901 Potrero in San Francisco. At first she hand colored lithographs of flowers created by Alberte Spratt. By the end of 1939 she began to work on her own lithographs but she was given the job of teaching art through the WPA at community centers in San Francisco. She eventually convinced the administration to allow her to return to the Lithography Project. She very briefly worked on the Easel Project. In 1940 she participated in the Chronicle lithography experiment.

Staschen also designed murals in mosaic tile while working on the WPA/PWA. She exhibited the technique during the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. She assisted Bernard Zakheim on his Coit Tower mural and she worked with Dick Ayer on his Aquatic Park sculpture, both in San Francisco, California.

Through her connection with the West Coast anarchists and the Beat Generation literary movement they inspired, she became a lifelong friend to poet and critic Kenneth Rexroth. Toward the end of her life Shirley Triest worked in Sumi-e, a highly disciplined Japanese style of painting with ink. She also wrote poetry in the Haiku tradition. She was a member of the Artists and Writers Union and was married to Frank Triest.

Shirley Staschen Triest died in San Raphael, California on November 26, 1995.

Reference: Oral history interview with Shirley Staschen Triest, 1964 Apr. 12-Apr. 23, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.