Adero Willard’s ceramics could not be described as anything less than bold and uncompromising.
Her pieces are richly coloured, with a predominance of reds, ochre and black. Not surprisingly, she names Matisse as one of her major influences for the use of pattern, and there is also a similarity in the use of strong shapes to create decorative elements.
Adero had a trip to India with her mother when she was young, and she told me it was a seminal experience. “My mom was a part of a Hindu based religious organization. I grew up chanting in Hindi, and learning the religious texts of the Hindu religion, as well as the teachings of yogic practices. When I was eleven my mother took me with her to India on a religious pilgrimage. The experience of flavors, climate, colors, and people was intense. I have always loved colorful things, but in India I had the chance to experience a richly ornate world that was beyond any experience I had or anything in my imaginings. I had an intense connection to sari fabric as well as the Hindu comic books that told the religious stories of the Ramayana, and other Hindu stories. The combinations of the textures of cotton and silk and the vibrant colors of fabrics interlaced with gold threads, next to other vibrant colors was a monumental influence in how I make work today.”
Her experiences with fabrics didn’t stop there. “I was also really intrigued with the sewing rooms of my grandmother and also a family friend who as a child I spent a lot of time with. I liked being around the piles of fabrics, sewing projects, and sewing machines. As well as all the patterns and textures I liked that things were being made there.”
“The other essential direction of my work has had to do with the exploration of identity. My multiracial identity, African American, Cherokee, and European American has been a part of the work I make. Growing up, I struggled to discover who I was and where I fit into the world. Eventually, I realized that I was satisfied with existing in ‘the in-between’ of racial identity, as there was richness and complexity there as well. My work therefore is more of a metaphor for identity; it is made up of layers that reveal and veil through rich colors and patterns.” And she says that while she admires the work of other artists (such as Kevin Snipes, Jenny Mendes and many more) who include more representational imagery in their work to create a more personal narrative, she feels challenged by this in her own.
Other influences for the work are numerous, and include Frida Kahlo for her rich colors, and personal and political narrative, Romare Bearden’s collages of jazz musicians and the people of Harlem, Gustav Klimt, and William Morris. Technical and philosophical teachers and mentors include Julia Galloway and Walter Ostrom.
Adero has worked full-time as a studio potter for many years. Her journey in this direction started when she was in high school, where she was able to participate in their arts program. “In high school I had the opportunity to take a bunch of different art classes, like painting, drawing, weaving, and pottery. I loved weaving and found it really satisfying, and I also spent as much time as possible in the ceramics studio. After high school I went to The New York State College of Ceramics and Art and Design (Alfred University). I really liked Alfred’s approach to teaching, in that they never required you to choose a specific medium to major in. So, while I mostly took ceramics classes, I also took printmaking, painting and drawing.
“It was in 2004 that I decided to leave Boston where I was teaching clay classes at a place called Mudflat Pottery Studio and also making a living as a potter. At the time I was mostly doing small local shows. I decided to go to Graduate School, at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and then after that I got a year long residency as the Salad Days Artist at Watershed Center for Ceramic Art. That residency is where I began working in terracotta, and specifically local clay from the Watershed’s own clay resource. The task of making 500 plates allowed me to pursue pattern and color extensively, and fuelled the work I would develop up until the present day.”
There are always challenges. As her work becomes increasingly complex, Adero says she has had to charge more for each piece. Although she believes this is a positive direction for her work, at the same time she doesn’t wish to exclude or limit her audience, and she is especially cognisant of the need for young people to experience handmade objects. And so like many artists, there is an ongoing search for her appropriate market.
“The other challenge that I see is that the places where we show and sell our work will change as the global internet market continues to grow. I feel strongly that we need to readdress the environment of craft shows, and retail galleries. At least to figure out how to get young people who really live in an internet world to engage in a handmade and process driven world – one where the tactile and sensory experience is important to the things we make.”
And a final piece of advice? “My best piece of advice came as a quote via Julia Galloway, and I continue to question its meaning all the time. Annie Dillard wrote ‘Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.’ ”