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Finger Lakes Art Council: Willard Chapel a new center for the arts

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What most of us refer to as “Willard Chapel” is actually two adjoining buildings: Willard Memorial Chapel and the Welch Memorial Building, which according to the chapel’s website are the only remaining structures of what was the Auburn Theological Seminary. The chapel has recently reopened for tours, after being closed for an extended period due to COVID-19. The historic building has also taken on a new role as a small but important center for the arts. Two new arts-based businesses have recently moved in.

Sew What! is a small, nonprofit initiative whose mission is “to recirculate usable items constructively and creatively, to foster education in needlecrafts and to provide a community space for all individuals to gather to practice their skills.”

Ann Padlick, the treasurer, said that the response to the business has been “phenomenal.” It accepts donations of clean fabrics and other sewing-related items in good condition. For more information, call (315) 704-4180. Sew What! is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Artistic Impressions is a retail boutique gallery and studio workshop owned by artist Sandra Shutter and her partner, restoration carpenter Bill Clark. Shutter described their business as an “oasis of creativity, fun and calm.” Artistic Impressions occupies the space in Willard Chapel once used by the Friends of Hospice Thrift Shop, which had to close because of the pandemic. Business hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. More information and photographs of the shop’s wares can be found on its Facebook page.

Kathleen Walker, the chapel’s executive director, has also made space available to the Finger Lakes Art Council. After having to meet over Zoom during the recent pandemic, we have begun holding our monthly board meetings there. We were also able to present "Business Planning for Creatives" in the community room in partnership with the Auburn chapter of SCORE, and we are planning future workshops and events.

We recently acquired a collection of wooden historical figures that were donated to the art council by the Auburn Enlarged City School District. These life-sized renditions of 16 historical figures are currently being preserved with some fresh paint and polyurethane, and we hope to display them at various events and celebrations or private events throughout the community. They are on display in the corridors of the chapel.

Both Willard Memorial Chapel and the Welch Memorial Building are designated National Historic Landmarks. The building houses stained glass windows, ornate chandeliers and beautiful mosaics. These features attract tourists from all over the world, especially those interested in the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. According to historical records, Willard Chapel is “the only complete and unaltered totally Tiffany designed religious interior known to exist in the world.”

In the early 1990s, the priceless contents of Willard Memorial Chapel were nearly dismantled and sold. Recognizing the huge loss that would have been to our region, members of the Community Preservation Committee spearheaded efforts to ensure the chapel remains intact while initiating its emergence as the local attraction and cultural resource center it has become.

We at the Finger Lakes Art Council would like to express our thanks to the Community Preservation Committee's Executive Director, Kathleen Walker, for her important role in promoting the arts, and we invite the community to visit the chapel building for tours and to see the historic wooden figures and the artwork and sewing supplies available for sale.

Beth Miller is a member of the board of directors of the Finger Lakes Art Council. For more information, visit


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