Blanca Will Biography

Blanca Will




This biography was adapted from the biography researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Executive Director, Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, West Virginia.  

Blanca Will, sculptor, painter, printmaker, designer, and art educator, was born to Barbara Marx and Frederick Will, Sr. in Richmond, New York on 7 July 1881. She began her sculpture studies in her early youth, then between the ages of fourteen through seventeen she studied drawing with Eugene C. Colby at the Mechanic’s Institute in Rochester. At Smith College, Will studied painting with Dwight W. Tryon and in New York she studied with Herbert Adams, John White Alexander, George Grey Barnard, and James Earle Fraser. She also studied painting with Hans Hofmann at his School of Fine Arts in New York.

Will first traveled to Europe with family members in 1903, sailing aboard the ship Kaiser Wilhelm II. She was studying in Rome in 1907 when she needed to get an emergency passport, probably due to loss, so that she could travel on to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. She returned to Europe in the early 1920s to travel and study in Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In between trips, Will lived in Rochester either with or near her parents (by the mid-1930s she had a studio apartment on Rowley Street).

While in Europe, Will traveled to Karlsruhe, Germany to study painting with Georg Tyrahn. In Dresden, she worked with Ferdinand Lührig and traveled to Capri to work with the American expatriate painter, Lucy Flannigan. In Paris, she attended la Académie de la Grande Chaumière and was tutored by Claudio Castelucho. Will also studied with several students of the French sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle.  

Will returned to the United States in the spring of 1926 and briefly worked in California (probably when she exhibited at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, see below) before heading up to Maine to study printmaking during the summer of 1927 with Grace Rhoades Dean of Toledo at the Cornell Art School. Early in her career, Maine would be a place of study and solitude for Will, who maintained a cottage and studio named the “Birchlea Studio,” located in Blue Hill Falls, where she worked in the summer and which she occasionally rented out.

In 1927, Will joined the staff of the Memorial Art Gallery of Rochester, New York, where she served as the Director of Art Instruction while also teaching sculpture. As part of her work there, she founded and served as the first president of the Association for Practical Housekeeping in Rochester (which later became the Lewis Street Center and is today The Community Place of Greater Rochester).

Will organized the Gallery Sunday Art Club in the fall of 1929, an organization of young artists who met weekly to work together, and oversaw the art fellowship program of the Memorial Art Gallery. She worked extensively with children and helped instruct a new generation of artists in the Rochester area.  In 1930 she was the recipient of the Lillian Fairchild award from the University of Rochester. As part of her award, her work the “Penguin Fountain” was to be cast in bronze and erected in a public place in Rochester (this does not appear to have occurred, more than likely due to the growing effects of the Great Depression).

During these early years of her career, Will was included in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design, New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Society of Independent Artists, New York; the Women’s City Club, Rochester; the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Pennsylvania; the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester; the Gallery Sunday Art Club, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester; and the Rundel Memorial Building Art Gallery, Rochester.

After eleven years overseeing the educational programming at the Memorial Art Gallery, Will retired in 1938 due to ill health. Newspapers reported that she planned to move to the Ozark Mountains in hopes of restoring her health and, in 1944, she eventually settled in Winslow, Arkansas, in the home she named the “Studio Cabin.” She also developed a lengthy association with the ‘Transcendentalist” art colony located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Will appears to have spent her first winter in Santa Fe during 1937 and 1938. She returned during the summer of 1938, when she participated in the Arsuna School of Fine Arts exhibition, where reviewers commented on her work: “Blanca Will’s landscapes are records of emotional reactions to the Southwest, rendered in pure color.”  While living in Santa Fe during the winters, Will reviewed other artist’s exhibitions for The Santa Fe New Mexican.

In 1938, Will also had a solo exhibition at the Santa Fe Art Museum, where the noted artist Alfred Morang wrote a glowing review of her work. She had become associated with the transcendentalist group that he led in Santa Fe at the time. Among other things, he noted that “Blanca Will is an artist with no political or social axe to grind, and she is an artist awake to the rhythmic significance of color.

Over the next decade, Will participated in numerous exhibitions in New Mexico, including the 1940 Coronado Country Exhibition at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. In 1941, she was listed as one of the more important female artists working in New Mexico, with a reviewer noting that her current sculpture “possesses both grace and strength.” 

Following her mother’s death in 1944, Blanca Will returned to the Northeast and stayed with relatives until November of 1945, when she returned to Arkansas. She traveled briefly to New Mexico during the autumn of 1947 to participate in an exhibition taking place in Albuquerque.

From that period forward, Will remained primarily in Arkansas and among her final exhibitions was a 1958 retrospective held at the Museum of Fine Art in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the autumn of 1980, her work was included in the first major retrospective of the most important artists to hail from Rochester, New York, which was organized and held at the Memorial Art Gallery. Of the more than 124 works exhibited, only about a twenty-five pieces were created by women, Blanca Will among them. Will is represented in the collection of the Memorial Art Gallery.

Blanca Will died at Siloam Springs, Arkansas, on Thursday, 9 February 1978 at the age of ninety-six years.