A chance request from the Priest of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church became a life changing event for artist Susan Willets. The church had received an endowment to be used for art exhibition space, and Susan, who is a member of the church, was asked to hang the art. With her connections to artists in the area she promoted the church space as a place for artists to introduce and sell their work to the public. Now she’s in charge of the art gallery and mounts an art exhibition every two months, a challenge that has brought her into broader contact with the Milwaukee art scene. As part of her volunteer duties, she hangs the shows, with the guidance of the artists, advertises the exhibitions in the Journal-Sentinel's "Weekend Cue," the church website and newsletter, and MARN-- the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network. She also organizes and hosts the receptions.
Each show lasts for two months, at the cost of only $35, and 10% commission on sales, which go to the church. The works are exhibited in a large, bright hall, and two more walls in a corridor. The artists invite their friends and followers for a reception at the church, elaborate or simple, for which they provide food and drink. St Mark’s supplies wine glasses, coffee, flatware and china, flowers, set up and clean up. Steve Woolf, the church’s music director, and a bass playing parishioner, can play jazz music for the shows on Sundays. Susan greatly enjoys these receptions, and getting to know the artists and meeting their friends. The experience has helped her grow as an artist.
Susan tries to bring variety to her choice of shows, and at least one show a year has multiple artists whose work is selected around a theme. Since St Mark’s has gained a reputation as artist-friendly, Susan is now contacted by artists wishing to exhibit. She gets great pleasure seeing the parishioners and guests enjoy the art, and believes the artists are also pleased with the sales. In Susan’s opinion this is a church that really supports the arts, which she finds unusual.
Willet’s own background is mostly in pastel work. She also does landscape and still life paintings in watercolor. She is co-chairman of Wisconsin Visual Arts and a member of Wisconsin Pastel Artists, and has exhibited throughout the area.
- Susan Willets, interview by Fran Assa, Daniel Cho and Yuko Nakamura, Milwaukee, June 18, 2013.