William Howard Shuster was known as much for his eccentricity of life as for his artistic accomplishment. He remains the quintessential Santa Fe artist.
Shuster first came to Santa Fe for reasons of health. He had seen action in France in World War I, and his lungs had been damaged by poison gas. A doctor in Philadelphia told him that he had a year to live unless he moved to the dry, high-desert climate of Santa Fe. Shuster, who had only minor experience with painting before reaching Santa Fe, soon met the Ashcan painter, John Sloan, who annually spent time in Santa Fe for most of his professional life. Sloan served as an artistic mentor if not actual teacher for Shuster for the rest of their lives.
Soon after arriving in Santa Fe, Shuster met four painters with whom his name would become linked. In 1921 Shuster along with Willard Nash, W.E. Mruk, Josef Bakos and Fremont Ellis formed the original Santa Fe art colony. With a nod in the direction of New York's The Eight (and decidedly away from Taos's more famous association of artists), the group called themselves The Five, or Los Cinco Pintores in deference to Santa Fe's Spanish heritage. The group would come to represent the best in the Northern New Mexican non-academic, primitive tradition.
Though Shuster is widely regarded today as a major regionalist painter, he is known equally for other talents and habits of personality. Shuster was a free spirit of original courage and buoyancy of spirit. He supported his love of painting with metal work, plastering and ceramics. He is remembered still in Santa Fe as an accordionist, a newspaper writer and a vaudevillian. Probably above all and despite his artistic recreations of Indian ceremonies and rituals, Shuster is known for his creation of Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, at the annual Santa Fe Fiesta. Shuster's personal élan continues to touch Santa Fe, although his taste for the sweetness of living recedes from memory before the tide of commercialism. The artistic climate of Santa Fe is poorer for the loss even as it is richer for the acquaintance.