While serving in WWI, Shuster was exposed to mustard gas. When he returned home
to Philadelphia, he contracted tuberculosis. His doctor told him to skip the eastern
sanatoriums and head out west for the dry climate. His daily prescription was to sleep 12 hours a day, preferably outside, go on with his painting, and eat good food and most importantly not to treat himself as an invalid. The doctor told him he would probably “die of old age, snake bite or drinking too much damn whiskey.” This prediction turned out to be true, as Shuster outlived many of his friends.
Will Shuster started out in Philadelphia with a strict German family as his back ground. He initially studied to be an electrical engineer while studying art at the same time. The artist William Server became his art teacher and mentor. His art education was cut short by WWI. When he made the decision to move to Santa Fe, he married his childhood sweetheart and they headed west.
Shuster found his place in the Santa Fe art community. He was described as a Renaissance man for his multi skills of being am artist, iron craftsman and inventor.Many important friendships were made starting with John Sloan who encouraged him to take his art seriously. Shuster, along with Bakes, Murk, Nash and Ellis formed the first Santa Fe modernist group called “Los Cinco Pintores.” According to Shuster they banded together for self protection. They were young, not well connected and branched away from the traditional European style of painting. Their main aim was to generate interest of their work and organize exhibits to reach the “peasant as well as the connoisseur.” They had a few traveling shows with good publicity. Their group only lasted five years. Shuster’s explanation was that they were always working on the side to make a living and had to follow the path where opportunity presented itself.
He joined another group in the summer of 1923 called the “New Mexico Painters.”John Sloan, Randall Davey, Andrew Dasburg were some of the other members of the group. This group exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum and the San Diego Museum. Though many of his friends moved away, Shuster remained in Santa Fe and lived a full life. Shuster is especially recognized for his 1926 invention of the enormous effigy puppet, Zozobra (Old Man Gloom), which is burned each year at Santa Fe’s annual Fiesta.
Will Shuster’s artworks are in the collections of Newark Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Delaware Art Center, Stark Museum of Art, and Museum of New Mexico.