Billy Mayer, a professor of art who had been a member of the Hope College faculty for nearly four decades, died unexpectedly at his home on Saturday, Nov. 11. He was 64.
There will be a memorial service hosted by the Department of Art and Art History on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 4:30 p.m. in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, located at 221 Columbia Ave., between ninth and 10th Streets. In addition, the college's fall Juried Student Art Show, running in the De Pree Art Center and Gallery from Monday, Nov. 27, to Friday, Dec. 8, is being dedicated in his memory.
As head of the college’s sculpture and ceramics programs, Mayer sought to extend the reach of his students' artwork beyond participation in student exhibitions in the De Pree Art Center and Gallery. Annually, for example, he had students in his Basic Sculpture course share their work in outdoor campus venues such as the Pine Grove and Nyenhuis Sculpture Garden. In 2010, he coordinated Hope faculty-student participation in the exhibition “Michigan — Land of Riches: Re-Examining the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum,” which featured installations from seven area colleges and art institutions. This was one of many ACTIVESITE and SITE:LAB organization projects held in Grand Rapids that exhibited work by Hope students along with his own.
He joined the faculty in 1978 and chaired the Department of Art and Art History from 1987 until 2004. He was active in the effort to build the college’s Kruizenga Art Museum, and was among the speakers during the building’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2013 as well as during the dedication this October of the Nyenhuis Sculpture Garden that surrounds the museum.
Among other activity at Hope, he spoke through the “Last Lecture Series” coordinated by the college’s chapter of Mortar Board in 2009. In May 2002, he and his wife, Michel Conroy, traveled to Japan with Hope students for a May Term.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for Hope College and for the many people who called Billy a friend, colleague and mentor,” said the Rev. Dr. Dennis Voskuil, president of Hope College. “Billy leaves a tremendous legacy, in his students (many of whom went on to become practicing artists) and on Hope’s campus.”
Mayer sculpted in media including glass, ceramics, fabricated aluminum, cast bronze and plastic. His large outdoor polychrome aluminum sculptures are a familiar site in the Holland area, residing in locations including Herrick District Library, the Herman Miller and Howard Miller corporate offices, Holland Midtown Center and Jubilee Ministries. Recent work had included sculpture light fixtures in a variety of area locations, including Butch’s Dry Dock, New Holland Brewing and Holland Bar Stool Company, among others.
On the Hope campus, his sculpture “Sun Dog II” stands immediately west of the college’s Phelps Dining Hall, and his sculpture “Midwinter Horn” is in the northeast portion of the Nyenhuis Sculpture Garden.
Mayer’s sculpture is in a variety of permanent collections, and his work was exhibited around the country as well as abroad. He had multiple exhibitions in the De Pree Art Center and Gallery at Hope through the years, most recently in January and February of 2016. The most recent exhibition of his work was at 337 Project Space in Grand Rapids this past July.
He was an avid amateur musician and collector of guitars and tube amplifiers, an enthusiastic motorcyclist (owning a Buell, a Harley and more than 400 toy motorcycles) and a dedicated cross-country skier who had also taken up kayaking. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1976, and from Pennsylvania State University with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1978.
Survivors include his wife, who is a professor of art and heads the ceramics program in the School of Art and Design at Texas State University; his four sisters, Connie Boyers (West Palm Beach, Florida), Janet Dolan (St. Paul, Minnesota), Claire Olander (Boone, North Carolina) and Mary Pat Hogeboom (Stillwater, Minnesota); and six nieces and six nephews.
Arrangements are through Lakeshore Memorial Services (lakeshorememorial.com).