Tompkins Cortland Community College

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Esther Williams

The thriving artistEsther Williams

After an hour-long conversation with Tompkins Cortland Community College alum Esther Williams, there are two notes scrawled across the top of the page.

Hiking full moon.

How did I allow myself to get this crazy busy?

Esther is a painter. She's successful. And lest you think that means a lot of hours lounging around coffee houses and cocktail parties, she will dispel that quickly. Esther works. She has a family. It is a balance. The inspiration, the full moon. And the work, crazy busy.

"I feel like I'm busy 24/7. I just want a day off to lay my feet on the couch." She's always been this way, she says, busy. "My first husband wanted to sit around and watch TV for hours. I couldn't. I had to sew, or work in the garden out back. Even in high school, I had a business designing leather apparel. I've always been in business. Always working."

Esther went to Tompkins Cortland in 1980 to study architectural design and fine art. She spent another year studying art and art history at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to study fashion design at The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.

It wasn't easy. She divorced. She worked. She got away from art. "I've been on a roller coaster ride, it seems sometimes," she said.

But there was always the need for the artist's inspiration. "I think with some personal struggles, being a single mother, I put art on the back table. But in 1996, I started to draw again. Everything I learned at Tompkins Cortland, I used it again. I can still hear the professor I had for an architecture class. She broke me out of a shell, and I really appreciated it. A good teacher takes you outside of your mold."

"And my education continued even after I finished at Tompkins Cortland. I went to museums, galleries. Because I missed the formal BA, I wanted to make up for it. I love to read. I love to learn. Anyway I could learn little gems about any master artist that could really help me to find the inspiration."

Once she rediscovered the inspiration, she committed fully to the art. She joined an art association, expanded into social media, and forged a network of supportive artists and audiences that has allowed her to dedicate herself fully to her work. It still isn't easy, art sales tend to ride the crests of economic booms and fall just as hard in busts. But with her passion for the work and business, she's still working, still painting. "I know a lot of people who are great, talented artists, and we feed off each others energy and support. There is a spiritual energy released when you're with a crowd of people and painting."

She's reaching a level at which people art beginning to look to her to teach.

"I idolize Monet. And people would ask him to teach and he would say 'no, I don't think I've mastered it."

"How could I teach someone just to make money? I haven't mastered this. Ask me when I'm 75."

"By then I'll feel like I've tried it all."