Finding art in beach stones

Port artist Nicole Shaver is using stones from the lakeshore as a medium for an artwork for the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve

Nicole Shaver of Port Washington scoured south beach to find just the right stones for her artwork, which will be placed at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve as part of the ARTservancy initiative that has 12 artists working on pieces for 12 conservancies in Ozaukee and Washington counties. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

She knew it was coming. It always does.

Artist Nicole Shaver of Port Washington starts with a plan, but it doesn’t matter. Regardless of the medium, size, shape or theme, Shaver said sometime during the process a transformation occurs.

“Some fight it and some accept it,” she said. “I relish it.”

It’s no different with the piece Shaver is working on now. Shaped like an egg and a golf ball, the work is scheduled to be placed at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve next month, part of a partnership between

Gallery 224 in Port and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Called ARTservancy, the initiative has 12 artists commissioned to create artworks for 12 conservancies in Ozaukee and Washington counties.

For her piece, Shaver is collecting rocks from south beach in Port and using resin and grout to put them onto a hollow frame of foam formed with saws and sanders. The colors go from dark on the bottom to white on top.

Shaver built a crate around the piece and has a metal rod through the inside to be able to turn it to put on the rocks. She has no idea how many rocks she is using but it’s easily in the hundreds.

“I handled each rock so many times I could catalog it by memory,” she said.

These aren’t just any rocks. They come from several buckets, some of which are being used for other art projects.

 “There’s a lot of rejects. These are the chosen ones,” Shaver said.

She hopes the piece — she’s leaning toward calling it Gizmo — provides people with a warm feeling but also makes them uncomfortable.

“It’s intriguing and amazing because it stops you and you can’t place the feeling,” she said.

She also wanted it to be tactile. People will be able to touch it, and Mother Nature will give it different appearances.

“I can’t wait to see it get rained on,” Shaver said, adding it was a difficult process to make the piece resilient, “but it’s so worth it.”

Shaver’s art practice is based on space, with materials endemic to the area in which she works.

This pairs with Shaver’s interest in geology and radioactive dating and the idea of geological ages in which humans lived. Today’s era, she said, will be marked by plastic items.

Her piece for Forest Beach, she said, is the embodiment of marrying the natural world and issues plaguing this generation, such as climate change.

Once used as Squires Golf Club, the 116-acre site is now a preserve that’s home to birds and bats.

She considers it a gift to be able to create a large piece of art at the site.

“There’s not a lot of times you’re afforded that, ‘Here’s all the space in the world,’” Shaver said.

She remembers a similar feeling growing up in Port. Her grandmother made her own lavish greeting cards, and Shaver was allowed into her back room.

“Here is everything. Have at it,” she said.

That went well beyond the typical limits of a box of crayons.

Shaver’s grandfather had a creative side also as a quiet and methodical woodworker.

Shaver took art classes in high school, but said she wasn’t a good student.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” she said.

While her Forest Beach project is to be representative of the conservancy in some way, she wasn’t given specific directions.

“If the color of the grout changes, that’s my decision. It’s very freeing,” she said.

Shaver graduated from Port High in 2008 and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, she learned she could be a career artist.

“I didn’t realize as an artist you could record your own experience through art,” she said.

“‘So what do you do?’ I get that all the time,” she said. “I’m a contributor to society by recording.”

Shaver also tends bar at Rascal’s and Juice’s Ghost Town.

She did a residency in Iceland last year and created an arch that frames the Island of Arbakkasteinn in the Hunafloi Bay. It’s made from enamel and 100 Icelandic rocks. She loves seeing people take selfies with her 15-foot-tall piece, which has become popular with tourists.

Shaver last month returned from a residency in Vancouver. She didn’t take any materials with her. “I’m fluid that way,” she said.

Coming in with nothing on her palette can create pressure, but Shaver trusts the process and keeps an open mind. A conversation with an employee of the used bookstore at the Milwaukee airport led to her buying a book on stratification and helping her with her exhibit.

Some of the rocks and minerals she ended up using came from a free ad on Craig’s List.

“You should reach out because you never know what’s going to come back and be helpful,” she said.

Shaver earned a master’s degree in art from the University of Iowa. She lived in South Carolina before coming back to Port. “This is my hometown and I absolutely love it, and of course I’m going to come back,” she said, and gained a new appreciation for landmarks she grew up with, such as the Pebble House.

“I couldn’t understand why somebody wanted to do that (build a house with beach stones) until I came back,” she said. “I want to do that too.”

Shaver had a couple of stints teaching different types of art classes to children of all ages, soaking up how other people’s minds work and seeing them gain confidence.

If she has any advice for aspiring artists, she provides what she was once told.

“Nobody else is going to make it except for you. The art world isn’t very big, so if you’re not willing to work, then get out of the way.”

The process, she said, includes failing, and used an example of 10 drawings, only one of which she liked.

“You’re going to make bad art,” she said, adding those nine drawings were required to create that 10th good one.

People may discuss art with Shaver and other ARTservancy artists from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve on Saturday, May 18, World Migratory Bird Day.

For more information, visit




Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login