For many years “everything is art unless proven otherwise” was one of the quotable maxims push-pinned to the office door of Professor Emeritus Bill Walmsley. From 1962 to 1989 Walmsley was a faculty member at Florida State University in the southern capital that he christened Tallahassee-en-Provence—a coy nod to Cézanne’s artistic isolation in Aix. “Even Picasso would starve to death in Tallahassee,” was Walmsley’s wry assessment of the fact that his prints, which had won seven national awards, were considered too risqué to be shown at any venue off campus. Critics and writers of the national press embraced Walmsley’s good-natured iconoclasm—even though the prophet kept a low profile in his own land.
Bill loved making art and he loved collecting it. To the Museum of Fine Arts, he left a tangible legacy of the works of other artists. The prints, paintings, and drawings he donated are in constant rotation as each new generation of students has the opportunity to study them —while his own lithographs remain lively observations of the human condition, as valid with each passing year as the day they were made.
Because we know Bill Walmsley primarily as a printmaker, we often forget he began his career as a painter: but a painter he was! A child of the American Depression era, Bill Walmsley still managed a continental education: he attended the famous Paris school, the Académie Julian (1949-50), where so many young Americans had trained, studying sculpture with Gimond and Yencesse and painting with Cavailles. He also sought art training at the Art Students League in New York (1951-52). After he completed his degrees at the University of Alabama on the slender resources provided him by the GI Bill after the war (and with intervening residencies in Paris and New York), he chose to do post-graduate work at the University of Kentucky (1960). Early teaching appointments were in Birmingham as well as Murray, Kentucky, before he accepted a position at Florida State University; at the time, he was painting and not yet making lithographs. In that career time-frame, he no doubt created a painting that has found its way to the far west coast. Its new collectors in California contacted the Museum with a photograph of this work—and we contacted Bill’s daughter Mary Sacco. We were all thrilled to recognize in this painting a long-ago vision of an artist who took risks, who experimented with the contemporary dialogues of the mid-twentieth century and who enjoyed the life expressed so vividly in his works of art.