Born Independence Day, 1962 in New York City, Willa Vennema grew up in Greenwich Village. From age 3 to 13, Vennema attended the City and Country School, a small, progressive elementary school blocks from her home. The creative teachers at City and Country, who used hands-on art projects, music, and free play in their curricula, instilled in her a love and appreciation for all art forms. Her experience there was also the foundation for her continuing creative work with young children.
As a teenager, Vennema studied classical music and attended the High School of Performing Arts as a Flute Major – made famous by the eighties TV show Fame. Although music led Vennema to Oberlin College in Ohio, she switched the focus of her creative energy to Fine Art and studied Art History and Studio Art there. After graduation, Vennema returned to New York to continue her study of Fine Arts at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. She was awarded a full tuition scholarship and received her B.F.A. in 1987.
Two years after her graduation from The Cooper Union, Vennema and her husband Carter Waldren moved to San Francisco. Their three year stay in SF was bracketed by the Loma Prieta earth quake four days after their arrival, and then the massive Oakland-Berkeley Hills Fire of 1991. Looking for a quieter and more affordable lifestyle, Vennema and her husband chose to move back east where they made their home in Portland. When her son was born in 1995, Vennema founded The Creative Play House, a home-based preschool where she employs the kind of arts and play-based teaching that was so fundamental to her own learning.
As teachers, both Vennema and her husband are able to spend the summer with their two children, Oriana, and Casey. They quickly settle in to “Island Time” on Swan’s Island, a small island off Mt. Desert Island, where Vennema's family has summered for over 53 years. Here, Vennema paints the waters, woods, rocks and trees of Swan's and surrounding islands “en plain air” using acrylic paints. During the winter months, back in her home studio in Portland, Vennema pushes herself to experiment. Her studio works are executed using the hot wax medium known as Encaustic, and these works have ranged from semi-abstract landscapes, to fully abstract mixed media works such as those in her recent series “Layers of Time”. Several works from this series will be included in the exhibition “Beneath the Surface” at the Saco Museum of Art, Saco Maine, April 2-May 28th, 2016.
Vennema has work in over a hundred private collections nationwide. Locally one can find her work in the collections at Maine Medical Center and Southern Maine Community College. Her work can be seen at The Harbor Square Gallery, Rockland, Maine, and Susan Maasch Fine Art, Portland Maine. Vennema is a member of New England Wax. a professional artists organization.