Shirley J. Ritzler was born May 4, 1934 on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England. She came to Alpena, Michigan, with her husband, Richard Ritzler, in 1954.
The only child of a creative family, Shirley had always been involved in some aspect of art. A self-taught artist, she worked in a variety of media, but concentrated mainly on the ancient art of paper cutting since the 1970s. One of the few paper-cutting specialists in the United States, she had won numerous awards, and had a long-time fascination with decorative architectural elements. Over the course of nearly 25 years, she developed three different series of paper cutout designs of these elements.
Her first cutout series, influenced by Victorian architecture in Alpena and throughout the world, was exhibited in six leading museums in Michigan, the Erie Historical Museum, Penn., the Creative Arts Gallery located on the campus of Central Michigan University, and most recently at the Alpena County Library. This series also was reproduced and documented in a soft-cover book titled “Kaleidoscopes Cut Paper Designs.”
She was later inspired to create two other paper cutout series that focused on paper patchwork/quilt block designs, and a number of nature/floral motifs.
Shirley designed her compositions by first making thumbnail sketches from various sources. She then drew out a composition on graph paper and transferred it to silhouette paper. The transfer was then taped onto a piece of Plexiglas and cut out in one piece with a razor knife. Her compositions took anywhere from two to 100 hours to complete.
Shirley promoted and encouraged the development of other area artists and served as the director of the annual Thunder Bay Art Show in Alpena in the early 1980s. She also previously served as a board member of the Thunder Bay Arts Council, sponsors of the art show.
Shirley died August 4, 2003, in Alpena, Mich., from complications of diabetes.