By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Bradley University Sculpture Professor Jaci Willis always thought of herself as a 2D artist. As a child, she would paint or draw whenever she could. Later, she did engineering drafting and graphic design, and even received a Master of Fine Art degree in painting. But, when she took her first course in sculpture, she thought, “Oh my gosh! Sculpture is where I’m supposed to be.”
As the daughter of a painter, Jaci came to art naturally. She would even use her father’s discarded X-ray separator pages for her artwork. She later went into drafting as a way to use her artistic skills to pay the bills. Eventually, she found her way into the MFA program at Bradley University. Ironically, she went there to study painting, but discovered sculpture.
Jaci is drawn to both figurative and abstract works. “I like it all,” she says. “I love to carve wood and do biomorphic abstracts. I can do direct carving, but I also love challenges. A challenge to create something takes a lot out of you, but also you get something from it.”
Many of her large scale sculptures involve engineering challenges as well as artistic. “To take a piece from a maquette where you just allowed yourself to play, to understand where the energy is flowing, and then, to create it large scale and think about all the engineering and welding that has to go into it. I love being an artist, but I also love using my engineering background. I love that I was able to conceive something in my head, and then bring it out.”
Jaci has taken on art challenges both locally and away from home. She worked with fellow Bradley Professor Fisher Stolz to create “Imprints of Education” for the Harrison Community Learning Center in Peoria, and the two are currently working on a bronze sculpture of A.J. Roberston to be unveiled at Bradley later this year. She has also received commissions in Chicago, Indiana and Florida. She also sits on the board of Chicago Sculpture International.