She was 19 when they met in New York. He was a much-in-demand illustrator twice her age.
Denise Ackle and Bill Shields became good friends, but both went on to marry other people. After she moved to California and then back to New York, they met again. This time it was different. “When I re-met Bill, that was it,” she says. “It was like falling in love with a very dear friend.”
Thus began a 40-year marriage, a loving family and a lifetime of adventurous and artistic explorations, many of which took place a few steps from Fillmore Street.
One of his early projects required a trip from New York to San Francisco. As they looked out the window of their room at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, Bill asked, “How’d you like to live in San Francisco?” “I’d love to,” Denise replied, and they went home to New York, packed up their Volkswagen bus and their two little boys and moved across the country.
A few years later they were up at Tahoe for the summer. Bill met a French visitor one afternoon and came home to ask, “How’d you like to live in Paris?” “I’d love to,” Denise replied, and they packed up the boys and moved to France for two years.
“He was always game to go anywhere,” she says. “We didn’t have much money, but we lived very well. We had such a good life.”
She bought and remodeled Victorians, becoming one of the first to increase their allure by staging them with nice furnishings and Bill’s paintings. Later they opened the Artists Inn behind a white picket fence on Pine Street. His artistic career flourished.
“He was one of those lucky people who did what he loved all his life,” she says. “And he loved this neighborhood. He loved being able to walk down Fillmore Street.”
Bill died in April, a week before his 85th birthday. He was buried on October 26 in Arlington National Cemetery with the honors due a distinguished Navy pilot.
This month the honors come closer to home, in the neighborhood Bill and Denise Shields loved and lived in for most of the years they were married. “William Shields: An Exhibition of His Art,” including paintings, drawings and sculpture, is on view at Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson. In addition to the major abstract oil paintings and pastel landscapes of the French countryside, the exhibition also includes more personal mementoes from their life together — cards and notes and wooden assemblages he created for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.
“Happy Birthday and oh my Lordy, you’re the most beautiful lady who ever turned 40,” says one, featuring a rapturous drawing of Denise’s red hair.
“Lovely Denise,” begins another. “How come you get bolder (just cause you’re more older?)”
A reception honoring the Shields will be held in Calvary’s lounge at 2515 Fillmore on Sunday, December 12, at 11:30 a.m. The exhibition continues through January 2.
EARLIER: Fillmore loses a familiar face