In Memory of Frank Willett, 1929-2020

In Memory of Frank Willett, 1929-2020

Frank Willett

Frank, our much loved founding member of NMPCA  and mentor, model to many clay people in New Mexico has passed away.  Frank’s ready wit and gentle ways have inspired and guided many of us over the years.  His fabulous skill in throwing, including thoughtful consideration of the true function of his pots, is unmatched.  He and his wife and fellow clay artist, Luisa Baldinger, glazed the pots to perfection, for beauty and functionality. 

Frank died at home, surrounded by his family, on October 15, 2020.  He was 91 years old.  Here is some information about Frank and his career: 

Frank held an MA in Fine Art from CSU Los Angeles and taught high school art in California before moving to Santa Fe in 1971, where he established Santa Fe Pottery on historic Guadalupe Street.  Through the years he produced pottery continuously, all with an unerring sense of beautiful form, good design and superb craftsmanship.  He and Luisa collaborated in many ceramic adventures. Together they produced Sunridge Pottery, a line of functional wheel-thrown and slab-made pottery for both the wholesale and retail markets, designed and produced “Santa Fe Lights”, ceramic architectural lighting fixtures, and continued to sell their work in their shop Santa Fe Pottery.  In 2003 they sold the shop.  In his “retirement” Frank continued to spend several hours in the studio each day making his more one-of-a-kind pieces on the wheel and collaborating with Luisa on the glazing and firing. Frank continued to throw work through August 2020. 

Awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2013, Frank Willett’s work in high fired porcelain and stoneware was recognized in that award as being widely known and respected in the ceramic art community in New Mexico. 

In addition to the Governor’s Award, he was honored by the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2002, was featured in the December 2005 issue of Ceramics Monthly, and was included in the Ceramic Arts Yearbooks 2015.  His work has been shown in numerous invitational and juried shows, including an invitational show in the New Mexico Governor’s Gallery, an invitational show of New Mexico potters at Santa Fe Clay, and, most recently, an exhibit of ceramics, “Critical Chaos”, in conjunction with an NCECA conference, “Critical Santa Fe, a Symposium” in the Gallery at Santa Fe Community College. 

He has taught wheel throwing classes and has given workshops at several colleges and ceramic educational institutions in the region. He was an active member of the New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists (NMPCA) lending his expertise as judge of the Clay Olympics, juror for the Celebration of Clay, lecturing and demonstrating at NMPCA Ghost Ranch workshops,  and showing his pieces in the annual Celebration of Clay Exhibitions.  See a video of Frank’s demonstration of trimming a bowl at Ghost Ranch on the NMPCA YouTube channel.

Frank’s Personal Statement

My pottery has always been functional for use in the kitchen, dining room and household.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with forms.  Staying within the constraint of functionality, the forms are stretched, bent, imprinted with varied textures, enhanced by glazes that break and run over the treated surfaces, and fired either in gas reduction to cone 11 or in soda to cone 11.

Making new forms is still a driving force; there’s excitement in it.   I enjoy working with clay and have had a pleasant and successful lifetime of playing in the medium.

The melancholy of post maturity is upon me but I try my best to turn it into humor.

You can see and purchase Frank’s work as well as the work of his wife, Luisa Baldinger, on their website at www.willettbaldinger.com. Work can be purchased through the website to be shipped or picked up at their Santa Fe Studio. Instructions are on the website to make appointment in advance to pick up work and wear mask.

Please add a comment to this post to share your memories of Frank.

Frank Willett at Ghost Ranch: How to Trim a Bowl
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7 Replies to “In Memory of Frank Willett, 1929-2020”

  1. jnelsonmoore

    Frank is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. He is greatly missed, but I feel so fortunate to have known him.

  2. Layne Vickers Smith

    Such a fantastic man, but I can never think of Frank without also thinking of Luisa, his soulmate. Always a pleasure to see one or the other—but to see them together, still flirting with each other, was sizzling.!

  3. Maggie Beyeler

    I first met Frank in 1999 when he and Luisa hired me to work at Santa Fe Pottery. They told me I could bring my dog Ed to work with me and that clinched the deal for me. I spent a couple of great years working for them and I got to know them and their families.
    More recently, Frank and Luisa have joined me and other potters twice a year as participants of the Contemporary Clay Fair. Frank not only brought his wonderful work to the show, but also himself and his friendly humor. I will very much miss seeing him every April and November, for he was also a mentor to me as a potter, and I dare say to most of the potters I know. We love you Frank!

  4. Barbara Harnack

    I have always appreciated the joy and happiness Frank brought to the world with his clay work and kindness. His work along with Luisa, is one of the reasons we wanted to have our Gallery. To show what seasoned and visionary artist can create. He was a delightful human being, who will be greatly missed.

  5. Barbara Hadley

    I didn’t really know Frank, but I knew and admired his pottery, and purchased a bowl some years ago that I really loved. Unfortunately, that bowel got broken, but I still have the pieces. For some reason, I can’t bear to throw them away. They are still beautiful, with the wonderful glaze that Luisa does. I keep thinking maybe I can do something with them. I am so sad to know that he is no longer with us, and my thoughts go out to Luisa, his soul mate.

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