CANANDAIGUA — As part of the city of Canandaigua’s 100th anniversary, longtime Finger Lakes Community College professor Wayne Williams has created a sculpture that honors the region’s first inhabitants.
The bronze-cast sculpture of an Iroquois family of four won’t be unveiled until November, but the public will get a glimpse of it in sketches, photos and model form in an upcoming exhibit at the Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34 at FLCC’s main campus, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua.
“The Seneca Family Sculpture: History and Process” opens Thursday, Sept. 19, with an opportunity to meet Williams from 1 to 3 p.m. It will be followed by a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. A closing reception will be held at the gallery Monday, Nov. 11, following the 10 a.m. unveiling of the sculpture at the northeast intersection of Routes 332 and 5 and 20 in Canandaigua. All events are free and open to the public.
“Mr. Williams has been extremely passionate about this project, so it’s fitting that we would host the exhibit chronicling his work,” said Barron Naegel, assistant professor of art and director of the gallery. “It’s also fitting that it would coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the city.”
Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni echoed his sentiments. “The centennial year is an excellent time to celebrate the completion of a prominent statue honoring the founders of the Chosen Spot,” she said.
Canandaigua was built on the site of a Seneca Iroquois village; the name means “the chosen spot” and is the city’s slogan.
The Seneca Family Sculpture’s unveiling will mark the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua that brought friendship and peace to the U.S. and Iroquois, often called the Haudenosaunee, in 1794. The treaty’s signing is commemorated on Nov. 11 each year, at the Ontario County Court House in Canandaigua. This year’s ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m., following the sculpture’s unveiling and the reception at FLCC.
The Seneca sculpture was at first planned as part of the city’s “millennial” festivities in the year 2000. Williams’ proposal to sculpt a Native American family was endorsed by a committee of city officials and supporters of the arts. With input from Seneca artist G. Peter Jemison, Williams created a clay model that was cast in bronze “as a way to show more correctly how a statue would look,” he explained.
“Models are usually done in a non-permanent form to present the idea in three-dimension,” added Williams. “That I cast it in bronze was a personal choice which proved valuable given the long time that has transpired since the work was proposed.”
Plans for the full-size sculpture were put on hold until a few years ago when residents Peter Mulvaney and Lloyd Lill jump-started fundraising efforts with the support of the city and local groups like the Ontario County Historical Society and the Ontario County Arts Council. Ed Varno, executive director of the historical society, oversaw the collection of proceeds.
Dorothy Mariner, former director of the arts council, made a sizable donation that enabled Williams to begin work on the sculpture late last summer. “She was very interested in the development of public art, and she felt it was important to honor the heritage of the First Nation with a representation of a Seneca family,” said Judi Cermak, the arts council’s current director. ”We are proud to be a contributor to the realization of this amazing sculpture that represents the community's support for the arts.”
The sculpture is slightly larger-than-life, with the tallest of the figures – the father – just under seven feet and 600 pounds. Williams did much of the work in his home studio in Newark, but the bronze work was done at a foundry in Penn Yan. All told, it is comprised of 51 separate pieces that, when complete, will have been seamlessly welded together. It will be placed on a base on the state-owned property so it will be highly visible to the thousands of daily passersby.
Williams, who retired from FLCC in 2003, has done several professional commissions, including the life-size statue of William Simon at the University of Rochester’s Simon School. The Seneca Family Sculpture has provided a unique experience, he said, because of the years he spent envisioning it and because it had to be built in multiple pieces. Ultimately, he said, the model from all those years ago was not entirely replicated.
“The model really gave me the spirit,” he said. “Some artists do a half-size model and the foundry does all the enlarging. I’m not a proponent of that. It should be its own sculpture.”
Photographs chronicling Williams’ progress, from clay to bronze, will comprise part of the gallery exhibit, said Neagel. The images and related material will be complemented by the work of an FLCC alumnus, James Lee Smith. Smith, who passed away in October 2012, was proud of his Mohawk heritage and painted under the name James Sawdey Smith. His paintings are on loan from the Phelps Arts Center. The Ontario County Historical Society, meanwhile, has loaned images documenting the celebration of the Treaty of Canandaigua’s signing.
Williams was hired as FLCC’s first fine arts instructor, oversaw the development of the college’s art program and served as art gallery coordinator and department chair. He retired from FLCC in 2003 and the campus art gallery was subsequently renamed in honor of Williams and Thomas Insalaco, a fellow professor emeritus.
The gallery is open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call (585) 785-1369 or email