by Daniel Brown
Shawn Daniell: In Memorial
Shawn came to see me in 2010, when I had just taken over as Editor of aeqai. She was shy but certain that she had an idea that would be good for aeqai and for her. I remember her literally sitting on the edge of my couch, until she got more comfortable and then moved on back. She had very expressive eyes, and almost an elastic face, and actually had eyes that sparkled or twinkled as her enthusiasm mounted when she spoke. She had videoed a number of senior NKU artists in their studios for a senior project, and wanted to know if aeqai could post some of them. We had not used video at all at that point, and after I looked at them, after she left, I saw some real talent on her part, as she was the interviewer, though all one heard was her voice occasionally. It was obvious that all of the artists whom she chose to video were very comfortable with her as an interviewer, a genuine skill on her part, and aeqai posted over half of them. They were a big success with our readers, and so we agreed that she would select one young artist, either a senior or graduate student, once a month or bi-monthly, and her choices were uncannily good, as she wandered around and picked artists from The Art Academy, from UC, from NKU. Somewhere during that period I asked her if she could write art criticism, and although she doubted it, I didn’t, as she spoke in real English sentences and was clearly intelligent. And so she started to write for us.
She told me that she was about to get a divorce, and so I suggested that she begin her writing career with aeqai with her given name, Shawn Daniell, and drop the married name, which she did with obvious glee.
What I didn’t realize was how quickly I would learn to rely on her judgments, opinions, intelligence and certainly her sense of humor. She had a wonderful laugh, that began in the lower registers of her voice, and would move upward into a kind of cross between a hearty giggle and a guffaw. Her laugh alone could often change my mood on a dime, and I was always very grateful to her for it, and for the perspective it represented. She was an incredibly grounded woman, and an increasingly powerful one. I have rarely seen a writer get so much better so quickly. Criticism is an odd hybrid field, in which one’s opinions are called for, and once Shawn was comfortable with that, she adopted the feminist “I” in her writing, which I often edit out, but not in her reviews, because it made them intensely personal. She felt strongly, and she was able to transfer those feelings into words, creating a balance between intellect and emotion, as her writing skills grew so very quickly.
She was interested more in gender studies than in feminism per se, and her increasingly feministic perspectives on gender were making her one of aeqai’s leading writers about such topics, which pervade much of contemporary art. I could ask Shawn on a moment’s notice to write a second review, or show up at an opening of a new space, and she never let me (or, I suspect, anyone) down. I was grooming her to begin a kind of managing editor role when Chuck Heffner, her fiancé, called me the Saturday that we last posted aeqai, to tell me that Shawn was dead.
I still have trouble believing it. I want her advice and her laugh all the time. I had relied on her more than I realized, as I had become genuinely fond of her as a person, and considered her a friend and confidant. It is a truly tragic death, as she had, in many ways, just begun to live the life of a mature and sophisticated woman and her relationship with Chuck was a mature and healthy one (he, too, can be hilarious, and his brilliance is obvious). In fact, if it wasn’t for Shawn, aeqai wouldn’t have Chuck, who took over as webmaster as aeqai became more complex. In that sense we owe aeqai’s ongoing existence to Shawn.
One of the great joys at my age is the mentoring of selected young people with the kind of talent that Shawn had. Robert Wallace, who taught her at NKU, clearly felt the same way. What I also saw in Shawn was a potential leader, and I suspected that she was going to become a genuine leader of younger artists and other creatives in our area.
I miss her every day, and can only be privileged to have known and worked with her at a period in her life when she was poised to take off and fly, and her talents really knew no limit, but we will never know, now how far or how high she would have flown. She was already sky high.