Willa Vennema’s paintings have been highly influenced by her life-long association with Swan’s Island, where she has summered since childhood. Her summer medium is acrylic, working quickly in the sun-sparkled world, painting directly the experienced moment and the magical light. Winter is about the paint, the “sensual aspects” of the oils and cold wax, exploring the inner world where “color, texture shape and line interweave and eventually tell a story”. Together these worlds intermingle and fully express the deft hand of a painter looking both within and without, ever-exploring the impact of one upon the other.
Born Independence Day, 1962 in New York City, Willa Vennema grew up in Greenwich Village. The sixties and seventies in the Village were a time of appreciation for art and expression, the place where Bob Dylan and many other musicians and artists found inspiration. From age three to 13, Vennema attended the City and Country School, a small, progressive elementary school blocks from her home. The creative teachers at City and Country, who used hands-on art projects, music, and free play in their curricula, instilled in her a love and appreciation for all art forms. Her experience there was also the foundation for her continuing creative work with young children.
As a teenager, Vennema studied classical music and attended the High School of Performing Arts as a Flute Major – made famous by the eighties TV show Fame. Although music led Vennema to Oberlin College in Ohio, she switched the focus of her creative energy to Fine Art and studied Art History and Studio Art there. After graduation, Vennema returned to New York to continue her study of Fine Arts at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. She was awarded a full tuition scholarship and received her B.F.A. in 1987.
After graduating from the Cooper Union, Vennema moved her studio to a store front in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and began her life-long routine of working in the mornings with pre-schoolers, and painting in the afternoons—while also squeezing in graduate classes at the Bank Street School for Education in the evenings. In 1989, Vennema and her now-husband, Carter Waldren, also a painter, moved to San Francisco. Here Vennema participated in many group shows and was featured in several one-woman shows. The landscape of undulating mountains just across the bridge from San Fransisco still informs the landscape work of Vennema today. But the pull of the coast of Maine, where Vennema grew up summering, brought her and her husband back East where they made their home in Portland.
When her son was born in 1997, Vennema founded The Creative Play House, a home-based preschool where she employs the kind of arts and play-based teaching that was so fundamental to her own learning. As teachers, both Vennema and her husband are able to spend the summer with their two children, Oriana and Casey. They quickly settle in to “Island Time” on Swan’s Island, a small isle off Mt. Desert Island, where Vennema’s family has summered for almost 50 years. The summer of painting the waters, woods, rocks and trees of Swan’s and surrounding islands serves as inspiration during the long winter months when Vennema returns to her studio and home in Portland. Here, through the process of painting using the fluid medium of Encaustic, Vennema relies on her imagination and memory to distill, reinterpret and create anew her vision of the Maine Coast.
"My work in the studio begins by immersing myself in the sensual aspects of the paint. It is magical for me the way color, texture, shape and line interweave and eventually tell a story. By layering and scratching away at the paint a surface emerges which seems to have a history; a sense of time past. Within this painted place, various subjects dwell." -Willa Vennema