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.

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Frank Willett at Ghost Ranch: How to Trim a Bowl

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