The Bellefonte Art Museum: Will Espey

Posted on March 30, 2013 


One of the more than 60 artists listed in the Bellefonte Art Museum’s registry is Will Espey. Here is his statement:

I am from west Central Pennsylvania and moved between Ontario and New York in my younger years. As a 15-year-old, I was asked to participate in the filming of Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman. I was the stickboy for the Johnstown Jets, and many of us were selected to have parts in the movie as well, which enabled me to pursue my passion of life at the time, a professional hockey career. 

After six years, with stops in Binghamton, New York; Evansville Indiana, and finally Kansas City, Kansas, I went on to become a high steel ironworker. I met many other Native American men, eventually finding myself in the company of our great elders who would educate some of us to our roots, and original teachings, and ways of being. 

This painting" Hiawatha" (He Who Combs) is one example that I selected to paint and depict as a work, done with oil, on sandpaper. The sandpaper itself is 9x11 inches.

The framing I made and carved from black walnut, including the feathers, and the small shelf to make the piece functional as well as aesthetic, influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. The raised medallions along the sides are done with watercolors and symbolize the Tree of Peace as part of the real story of Hiawatha and the great peacemaker who brought democracy in its original form to the Iroquois people prior to the arrival of the Europeans. 

The dove also is included in the painting due to it being a symbol of peace. The first person to accept the peacemaker’s message was a woman, so she is depicted in the top of the central figure's head and also symbolizes the balance of power. The hair/ feathers from the central figure's head, or Hiawatha, are also done to appear as combs to coincide with his name. The eyes were left dark and empty to symbolize the grief people experience when their minds are not at peace.

The peacemaker's message lifted the burden of grief and isolation from Hiawatha and set him free to go about untangling the snarls in other’ minds and lives, hence the ability to be autonomous. 

This work and many of my other pieces celebrate what it is like to sit with elders who have observed and enabled my growth into my essence self so I may be an extension of their lives and teachings into our futures. These pieces are to honor those who have gifted me with their hearts and minds as one, and so with this type of humility my work is done to respect the unity, my gifts, and abilities. 

My way of making art is to look at things without a belonging, things no one has selected, basically that are unwanted or loved and cared for, then make them into something which someone will take into their essence self, and nurture into existence, giving them a place of belonging and a home. I sorrow for the canvas, brushes, paints, objects, etc., that have not been chosen, and then take them to a place of creation, attempting to lift the burden of grief from them by giving them a purpose and reason to no longer be passed by, abandoned, of forgotten.

It is with these hopes in mind and heart that I hope to present my work and to allow people to understand how it feels to be among elders who see you clearly as you are and cherish the time that you spend with them, listening and becoming. It brings peace to the very walls many are so used to just climbing. When there are no more words left in our minds to describe things, we reach into our hearts. My work is a labor of love and intuition.

The Bellefonte Art Museum celebrates the human spirit through the arts, recognizing the importance of art in our lives. In 2011, the museum experienced a large increase in attendance, private donations and membership and completed refurbishing the historic Linn House. The museum opened three new galleries: the Children’s Creativity Center, the Anna Wagner Keichline Gallery and the new Louise Bloom Sieg Gallery. The museum is opened Friday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Phone 814.355.4280.


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