August 11 – CLAYTON – William L. Salisbury, 72, who created legendary metal creations scattered across the north of the country and who also forged a reputation with his warmth, wit, conversation and personal courage, died on Tuesday. morning a few days after entering Hospice treatment.
“The art world in the north of the country has lost an invaluable contribution and resource,” said Marina S. Loew, curator of the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton, where in 2020 her gallery hosted “Will Salisbury, Sculptor, to Retrospective “.
Evelyn Saphier, director and founder of the Iva Smith Memorial Gallery of Fine Art in Hammond and who has worked with Mr. Salisbury on two projects over the past two years, said that besides being a great artist, he was a “great soul.”
A 9 1/2 foot tall steel sculpture of Mr. Salisbury, “Angelic Form”, was dedicated on July 1, 2021 at Mrs. Saphier’s gallery. He presides over a maze of five circuits in which, Ms. Saphier said, people are invited to “walk in peace” or “seek peace”.
“He was a man who lived out his compassionate artistic vision, expressing it both in his artwork and in his life, creating works of social commentary and beauty, guiding other artists, training young people in the art of metalworking and preserving the ‘northern country artists’ legacy over time in its website, “he said.
Mr. Salisbury may be best known for his gigantic installation, “Three Crows”, located on his property and behind his laboratory in the hamlet of Omar, Alexandria City, on the west side of Interstate 81 southbound in the city of Alexandria. . Crows, made from oil storage tanks, were installed in 1999, before the millennium, as precursors of change. Twenty years later, homeowners on Comfort Island commissioned Mr. Salisbury to create three crows for their Maryland estate. Those homeowners also installed another sculpture of Mr. Salisbury, a 7-foot tall, 700-pound bear / weather vane atop their Comfort Island home, which overlooks Boldt Castle.
Other popular public creations include “Breaching Muskie Monument” at Clayton’s Frink Park; the “Tree of Knowledge” outside the Hawn Memorial Library and a welded aluminum sculpture of a flying swan carrying a Shasta trailer past the Swan Bay resort on State Route 12.
In 2017 at the Snowtown Film Festival, Mr. Salisbury presented actor and graduate of Watertown High School and St. Lawrence University Viggo Mortensen with a sculpture – the North Country Inspiration to Artists Award – of a raven named Rascal.
Mr. Salisbury’s creations have also been in several New York galleries, including SoHo galleries. His commissions for sculpted items included gargoyles, a giant sturgeon, angels, lighthouses, signs, furniture, railings, Japanese screens, trees, fish and birds.
But those who knew him say that there was much more to the artist than was reflected in those public creations. Mr. Salisbury was a self-described “social commentary” artist. Before his he “Tree of Knowledge” was unveiled in 2013, he told the Times that it was a rare public sculpture. “It’s not usually my thing that I’m in a public group of people having a speech or something,” he said.
“His art isn’t always popular. It’s not parlor art,” said Charlie Tebbutt, an Oregon-based environmental attorney who has spent his life-long summers in the Thousand Islands and has become a mouse companion. river with Mr. Salisbury. He was 16, 47 years ago, when he first met the artist, who according to him had a way of documenting the evils of society.
“His personal art, not his commissions – which are beautiful in themselves – that art that came from his heart, was that kind of art,” said Mr. Tebbutt. “What we see, the muskies, the Tree of Knowledge, the bear on Comfort Island, the Swan Bay trailer and so many more are his versions of the easy things in life. But the hard things were where he shone the most: the atrocities of war, atrocities of famine, governments that turn their backs on people “.
Mr. Tebbutt lives in a house on Woronoco Island that Mr. Salisbury built in the mid 1990s. It is surmounted by a gargoyle. “The boy was a modern da Vinci,” said Mr. Tebbutt. “He worked by all means. He knew how to design anything.”
He added, “Will would give a job to someone who was down and out. I was one of those young people. He took many young people under his wings, gave them jobs, taught them how to work, live and how to respect the river. and how to respect humanity. He instilled in us a work ethic and a party ethic. “
Mr. Tebbutt is one of the essayists for Richard Margolis’ Will Salisbury: Sculptor, a Rochester photographer and summer resident of Thousand Island Park. The 119-page book includes 165 photographs and 14 essays on Mr. Salisbury and his work. He accompanied the retrospective exhibition at the TIAC.
Mr. Salisbury had a lot of respect for the art community in the north of the country. He created and maintained the website, North Country Artists. The site has been updated to say: “It will remain, dedicated to his memory, as a directory and tribute to the extraordinary talent of the region.”
Brandon J. Lawwill, a 2006 graduate of Alexandria Central School and an art graduate from SUNY Potsdam, said he often drove into Mr. Salisbury’s Omar studio / barn as a child.
“I often said to my boyfriend: ‘Who knows if he would let me out?’ You don’t even care if you pay me, ”said Mr. Lawwill.
About two years ago, he got the chance when he noticed that Mr. Salisbury was advertising for an assistant.
“I didn’t waste a minute,” said Mr. Lawwill. “I contacted him immediately and he wanted me to come down then. We immediately agreed. The interview we had was supposed to last for a few minutes, but we spent hours in his ceramic studio talking about everything, telling stories. His stories they were so charming, almost like a movie. “
Mr. Lawwill began working with Mr. Salisbury in early 2021, becoming a key assistant for the “Angelic Form” sculpture at Mrs. Saphier’s Hammond Gallery.
“He and I practically made 90 percent angel,” said Mr. Lawwill. “It was my pride to work with him.”
There were times in the project when Mr. Salisbury was sidelined due to illness.
“There was a time when he was in his hospital bed,” said Mr. Lawwill. “He was calling me, texting me and I was sending him pictures and kept giving me complete and detailed instructions from his bed, yelling at the nurses, saying he had to phone me.”
Mr. Lawwill also took guided tours of Mr. Salisbury’s Omar studio, which the artist himself enjoyed doing. “He didn’t care if you were young, old, you could barely see, he would spread it out and tell you all the pieces of him in his study. I explained his legacy a little, from what I knew.”
Mr. Salisbury was born in Syracuse, the son of an experimental potter for Syracuse China. He began working as a sculptor in 1964 by sculpting images of Ethiopian famine refugees in his family’s cellar using plaster columns. Reading about refugees in National Geographic and Time magazines shocked and inspired him. A series on the Haitian boat people soon followed.
He did not go to college and hardly finished secondary school. “I went to the school of life,” she told the Watertown Daily Times in 2019.
That life experience included going to California as a teenager and turning 18 there and taking part in the “Summer of Love” in 1967.
Mr. Salisbury eventually returned home to Syracuse and told his father that he wanted to finish high school, if only to prove he could. His father eventually sent him to Outward Bound School on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine. He was then sent to Webster Academy in Webster, Mass.
Mr. Tebbutt said that Mr. Salisbury’s worldly experiences also included visiting Florence, Italy, encamped in the masters sculpture gardens. “He literally slept at their feet to know what they were doing,” he said.
Leslie W. Rowland, executive director of TIAC, said the organization cherishes the memory of hosting the Mr. Salisbury exhibit during the first summer of the COVID pandemic in 2020, with one attraction that stands out in particular.
“It was a monumental task to move ‘The Moon Walkers’ to our campus on John Street,” said Ms. Rowland. “But because Will had so many very close friends and supporters, the large ‘walkers’ arrived on time and were accommodated without any problems.”
In “The Moon Walkers”, five human forms of metal, a little larger than life, seem lost and struggle to survive. A man hugs a woman. Behind that couple are two children. Behind them is an elderly woman on her knees, one hand outstretched, seemingly seeking assistance. Everyone is without clothes. Fine details such as veins and nails in the hands and feet reflect the artist’s skill.
“For me, it’s about the tragedy of the human race,” Salisbury told The Times in 2019. “We’re in bad shape and we’re not going to survive this crap the way we’re doing it.”
“Despite the pandemic, hundreds of visitors have been privileged to see many of Will’s best work exhibited here,” said Ms. Rowland. “An artist and a human being like Will doesn’t show up often.”
Ms. Saphier, at the Iva Smith Memorial Gallery of Fine Art in Hammond, said that Mr. Salisbury’s death left “a huge void in the hearts of his friends, family and the northern country’s art community.”
“We are fortunate that his artistic soul and his vision, as evidenced by his many beautiful works scattered among us, remain,” said Ms. Saphier.
Among these is the “Angelic Form” in the labyrinth of his gallery. It is shaped like an angel, but Mr. Salisbury, when it was unveiled, told the Times that it has a different meaning to different people. He said that in addition to an angel, people can see different themes in the sculpture, ranging from an alien space to Christ on the cross.
“That’s a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Mr. Salisbury.
But earlier this week, the sculpture held special significance to Mrs. Saphier, if only for a fleeting precious moment.
“Oddly, right after I got the message that Will was dead, I looked up at the angel and saw a bird perched on the tip of his upper right wing.”