Milt Shirley’s art will live on at Shrimp Festival
The landscape paintings of local artist Milt Shirley, instantly recognizable for their stunning detail and beauty, will still be available at next month’s Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, though Shirley passed away in September at the age of 82.
Milt’s wife, Sutsy, said her husband left about 70 paintings in need of a home. She will offer a booth full of the artwork May 4-5.
The former Fernandina Beach mayor, known for his mastery of oil in creating peaceful marsh scenes, had been a fixture at the corner of Centre and South Sixth streets for many years.
Milts’s landscapes are popular with local residents and tourists alike and have sold well in galleries. His paintings also adorn the walls of the home the couple shared in Yulee.
Sutsy said she recently discovered a closet full of canvases she didn’t know existed, but admitted she has mixed feelings about parting with her husband’s paintings. “It’s been hard because it feels like another loss, but it’s really necessary,” she said. “I am saving his first and his last painting. Those are forever mine.”
Milt studied art earlier in life but gave it up for a more lucrative career as a chemical engineer. In 1969, he and his family moved to Fernandina Beach, where he worked for more than 30 years as an environmental engineer for Rayonier Inc. He was active in the community and local politics, serving on the Nassau County School Board and Fernandina Beach City Commission. He was elected in 1989 to a term as mayor of Fernandina Beach. The couple lived on the island for many years before moving to Yulee.
After retiring, Milt took up painting on a nearly full-time basis. He was known to work about 35 hours a week in his studio, creating two or three paintings a week. In a 2010 interview with the News-Leader, Milt said, “I like to paint vast expanses where you can see a long way, and I like to paint thunderstorms and sunrises and sunsets, and you’ll see that in these paintings. It’s just to me the prettiest thing you can paint.”
Ernest Middleton Shirley (Milt) and Janelle Hyde (Sutsy) were married for 62 years. They met when they both attended college at Louisiana Poly Technical in Ruston, La.
Sharing the same name as his adoptive father, he shortened his middle name to “Milt.” She was nicknamed “schatzi” at birth by her family, a German term of endearment that literally translates as “treasure.” Over time, the nickname evolved into “Sutsy.” Milt and Sutsy shared outgoing personalities and a love of dancing.
While Milt’s career and passion for art took separate paths, Sutsy’s career and passion – children - were one and the same. Retired after 40 years as a physical education teacher, she still can’t resist reaching out with a smile or comment to every youngster who passes by. She taught at Fernandina Beach Junior High School, Southside Elementary School, and Amelia Island Montessori School.
The couple raised a son, Paul William Shirley of Fernandina Beach, and a daughter, Lola Shirley Waldrip of Key Largo. They have one grandson, Landin Waldrip.
Sutsy said both adult children are planning to help out at the art booth during the Shrimp Festival. Their booth this year will be near the same location that Milt enjoyed at previous festivals, at the corner of Sixth and Centre streets, behind the Eight Flags Antique Market.
The Fernandina Beach Branch Library also currently has several of Shirley’s paintings for sale in its Community Room.