Willett speaks on building art communities at VACI lecture series

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer
Errol Willett, an associate professor at Syracuse University, sits outside the School of Art July 8. Willett will speak for the Visual Arts Lecture Series at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center.

When Errol Willett took a post as a ceramics instructor at Syracuse University, he and his wife, Jen Gandee, searched for a place to live. They eventually settled on an old hardware store in nearby Fabius, N.Y. The couple purchased the store and converted the second story into an apartment and the first story into a gallery, complete with a community classroom and studio space. Gandee Gallery now represents ceramists from all over the country and also exhibits jewelry, painting and photography.

“It’s been a 15-year project,” Willett said. “But it’s really starting to come together now.”

Willett, who will speak at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center as part of the Visual Arts Lecture Series, plans to discuss the gallery project he and his wife undertook. He will also show his own large-scale ceramic sculptures and his wife’s decaled ceramic teapots and bowls.

“Most pottery forms are based around needs that exist in the home,” Willett said. “Home extends to community, and so the project we’ve done really has a lot to do with invigorating a small community.”

As a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, Willett discovered a factory making chimney flues in nearby Mill Hall, Pa. At this time, in the 1990s, collaborations between art and industry were popular in the art world. While surprised by his request, those at the factory offered Willett an on-site studio space. Willett said working with the flues expanded the scale of his work from 12 inches to four feet tall “literally overnight.” Since then, he has continued to work in large-scale ceramics.

Willett plans to read the last chapter of Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error with Chautauqua Institution’s School of Art students. He said the book deals nicely with the connection between art and errors.

Willet is experimenting in a trial-and-error fashion with a new form he’s trying to figure out. While he normally sculpts very practical vessel pieces, the latest shape that has his attention looks like a large, simplified bow, the kind that would go on a gift. It creates four cradles of space that Willet sees people using as platters for a large party or a way to display cut flowers.

“I’m scratching an itch with contemporary design and form as much as with function,” Willett said.