The work of Bill Freeland offers metaphors to reorient the viewer to nature, environment, and the basic rituals of living. Freeland worked both two and three dimensionally to create forms that hover between artifacts and abstraction. He has described himself as "an abstract realist, searching for a new form of realism," and his pieces reflect this vision.
Freeland began as a painter, having studied with Hans Hoffman in the 1950’s and gradually moved into dimensional wall constructions and sculpture. Over the years, his work has been inspired by farming tools, windmills, boats, and Native American masks.
In his later years, Freeland divided his time between Chester County, Pennsylvania, and County Mayo, Ireland. He has had numerous one-person exhibitions at distinguished venues including the Royal Hibernian Academy of Art, Dublin; Taylor Galleries, Dublin; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Delaware Art Museum; and Dolan/Maxwell Gallery, New York.
Courtesy of www.billfreeland.com
By Walter F. Naedele
"Nothing in ordinary life is ordinary to Bill Freeland," Inquirer art critic Victoria Donohoe wrote in a 2006 review of his sculptures at Swarthmore College. Working in Chester County and County Mayo, Ireland, Mr. Freeland "reacts to his Irish surroundings in particular as to a living presence," Donahue wrote. His abstract sculptures, she said, are an homage "not only to old-time farm machinery and antique processes, but to the abiding values and traditions of country life."
On July 25, William L. Freeland, 80, a retired professor at what is now Moore College of Art and Design, died of an acute infection at the Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, Ireland, near his home there. In a 2004 review, Donohoe noted that Mr. Freeland had been "a consistently interesting sculptor for nearly three decades." Mr. Freeland cherished "authenticity and self-sufficiency and [tried] to recapture it" in his work, Donohoe wrote in that review, "admonishing us to redirect our attention to 19th-century technology so that we might learn from it ways to simplify our lives."
In a 2001 show at Ursinus College, Donohoe wrote, Mr. Freeland's work consisted of "engineered constructions of bent wood, forged iron and stone, so precise, crisp and appealing in their shifting planes and textures." The sculptures at that show, she wrote, embodied "the deep sense of loss he now feels over our heedless and uncaring separation from our old agrarian ways."
Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Freeland graduated from William Penn High School in Harrisburg and served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, said his son, Erik. He was "part of the Inchon landing and the push to the Chosin Reservoir," earning a medical discharge because of his wounds, the son said.
Mr. Freeland graduated from what is now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and attended the Hans Hofmann School in Provincetown, Mass., in 1957. After teaching art at West Chester Friends School from 1957 to 1962, Mr. Freeland taught at Moore College of Art from 1969 to 1990.
In June 1990, when he turned 61, Mr. Freeland retired from Moore, Donohoe wrote, "to wing it as a full-time sculptor, a daring thing for any sculptor to do." Off-site at the Chicago International Art Expo that May, he had exhibited a major installation, Sundown Wikiup, and that summer he was about to open a show at a Manhattan gallery. So all was well.
Mr. Freeland had built a studio on a ridge in rural Charlestown Township. The property included an abandoned quarry, and he had converted the quarry's old utility building into his home. And there he lived from the early 1970s to his retirement, commuting to Moore a couple of times a week. But he wasn't homebound. He spent summers in Taos, N.M., finishing cold-weather work begun in his high-ceilinged studio in Chester County.
Upon retirement, Mr. Freeland moved to Media, worked at a studio on his son's property in East Bradford, and spent part of each year in Ireland. In a 1982 review of a show at the Art Alliance near Rittenhouse Square, the art critic Donohoe had celebrated his work, which was "concerned with nautical imagery and materials of the briny deep." Noting that his art had evolved from those ocean images to later agrarian work, his son said that Mr. Freeland had returned to live in Ireland because, years before, he had been attracted to "the maritime culture in the Aran Islands in the west of Ireland."
Besides his son, Mr. Freeland is survived by his former wife, Melora; a granddaughter; and his companion, Magda Vitale.
A graveside service was held July 31 at Birmingham-Lafayette Cemetery in West Chester. A memorial is set for Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. at West Chester Friends Meeting, 425 N. High St., West Chester.