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Obituary: Tony Shull, 1945-2021

Burlington artist, musician and creative spirit was known for his colorful murals

Published April 23, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated May 18, 2021 at 2:33 p.m.

  • Tony Shull

Burlington artist, musician and creative spirit Tony Shull left this world surrounded by love on April 9, 2021, after a brief illness.

Born August 31, 1945, in Minnesota to expatriate Vermonters Chester and Frances (McCarthy) Shull, Tony grew up largely in Burlington and lived in various places around Vermont, Wyoming, the Southwest, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with Burlington as his primary hometown. He was a true child of his generation, unfettered by convention and one of a kind.

While he earned a living over the years as an interior painter (other gigs included boat restorer, road crew flagger, special agent daycare worker, freelance pussy willow purveyor and Christmas light hanger), Tony’s true vocation was creative genius. His life centered on making and sharing art and music with family, friends and the public. He had a gift for inspiring and amplifying the creative spark in others without judgment or ego, whether they were fellow artists or accountants.

Tony was widely known for the colorful murals he painted all over Burlington featuring psychedelic scenes in his trademark color palette. Falling somewhere between Hieronymus Bosch and Grandma Moses, his style was uniquely his own. “Don’t worry,” he’d say when asking building owners’ permission to transform their walls. “It’s only paint.”

Spacemen, smiling clocks, robots, egg men, ant people, ambulatory fish, naked ladies, shaggy dogs, lovers and the brokenhearted made regular appearances in his works. That said, his undeniable talent as a fine artist was evident in his striking portraits of friends and historic figures.

For Tony, there was no scrap of wood or cast-off household object that couldn’t be converted into a religious icon or bawdy visual pun, or some whimsical alternative version of itself: wind machines, robots, collages with moving parts whose sole purpose was to delight.

Tony Shull - TISHA SHULL
  • Tony Shull

His work hung in numerous shows around Burlington over the decades and was featured in publications including Vermont Life and Seven Days; a book on his work by photographer Carolyn Bates is forthcoming. For every painting he actually sold, he bartered or gave away scores more — if you counted Tony as a friend, chances are that at least one totem of his unique spirit occupies space in your home.

Also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, Tony joyfully played his guitar and fiddle with fellow musicians in homes and hootenannies across the state. His knowledge of music was prodigious, from sea shanties to blues to the folk scene and everything in between. Original tunes such as “The Girl From the North Side of North Street” and “Bi-Sexual/Bi-Lingual Man From Montreal” reflected his sometimes bleak, always keen observations of the world around him with humor and wit.

He was both a lover of fast cars and bicycles; irreverent and spiritual. He was a guerilla gardener, canoe adventurer and bonfire builder, and he appreciated beauty in all its forms. A ninth-grade dropout, Tony fed his inquisitive mind as a lifelong reader, dedicated listener to the CBC and public radio, and in thoughtful discussion with others. He drew members of his tribe from all ages and levels of society. Though he lived a spare lifestyle, he was abundantly generous with his kindness and creativity. His passing leaves the world a little less colorful.

Tony is survived by his beloved daughter Tisha and granddaughter Litza; devoted sister Nancy; nieces and nephews Abby, Sean, Nina and Alex; great-nephew Eddie and great-niece Heather; as well as many, many friends who cherished him dearly. He was predeceased by his parents, sister Carlotta (Tucky) and brother-in-law Fred.

The family wishes to thank the staff at the McClure Miller Respite House for its wonderful, compassionate care in Tony’s final days.

A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Burlington on Friday, May 7, at 4 p.m. (facial coverings and contract tracing required). Donations can be made in Tony’s name toward a planned memorial grant to benefit Vermont artists. Checks can be made payable to the Tony Shull Grant Fund, 255 S. Champlain St., Suite 14, Burlington, VT 05401.

To honor Tony’s memory, buy some art directly from the artist, go out and make or enjoy live music, and express your own creative genius. Friends are encouraged to leave remembrances on his Facebook page: The Artwork of Tony Shull (

  • Tony Shull

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