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Following a unique path back to Buffalo Niagara

Once a month, BN360, the young professional development and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, talks with one of its 2019 Spotlight Professionals to find out more about their professional journey. In November, we sat down with Jesse Walp.

A boomerang, born in Western New York and rejoining the Buffalo Niagara community after growing up in Mississippi, Jesse landed and continues to pursue his dream job as a professor at Villa Maria College and an artist. Inside the classroom and out, Jesse specializes in furniture and interior design, as well as sculpture. His pieces are in private residences and public spaces across the region—including this amazing public sculpture in Niagara Falls.

[Q] Jesse, what do you teach at Villa Maria?

Jesse: “I have the unique opportunity of cross-departmental teaching. I teach interior design classes, furniture design, and fine art courses. One of my favorite techniques to teach is bent metal. Metal is an amazing material that can be shaped and utilized in both practical and abstract ways. Take a quick look around, from the structure of the building you are in (if you are inside) to the furniture around you. Metal is a very versatile material.”

[Q] Most of your life was spent in Mississippi, what was that like compared to Buffalo?

“I spent most of my young life in Mississippi, from around the age of four until I was 23. Like Buffalo, Mississippi has some great people who are very honest, warm, and welcoming. Growing up in Mississippi, especially in the woods, was foundational to getting me in touch with nature and understanding the raw materials, like wood, that we use every day.”

[Q] How did your path lead you back to Buffalo?

“Even though we relocated to Mississippi, we continued to have strong ties in the Buffalo Niagara area. My dad’s family, who live in the region, helped bring us back to Buffalo for visits over the years. In terms of my educational and career path, it was not a straight shot. I started in engineering, largely because that was what my older brother did. We didn’t even have an art program at our high school. One day in college, I walked past a student carrying a model he had constructed. It got me thinking about ways that I could pursue a path that would allow me to be creative, to think differently, and to make things. Until that experience, I hadn’t realized that art, and its many applications, could be a valid pathway. I signed up for interior design, started to focus on furniture design, and created a lamp. That was the moment I realized that making things was a way forward. I went on to study woodworking, furniture design, and ultimately sculpture.”

[Q] You are a talented sculptor. What is your favorite material to work with?


[Q] Our interview would not be complete without asking about your wife. She is also an artist and a maker. Do you create pieces together?

“Haha, yes. We have been married for 10 years and we just recently completed our first collaborative piece. We met our first year of grad school. Her medium is ceramics. Mine is largely wood. Long story short, we both ended up landing residencies in the same place in West Palm Beach, Florida, then we did the same thing at a community art center in Reading, PA. Then one day after another we both landed jobs in Buffalo.  We got lucky, it was just fate that our paths kept aligning.”

[Q] Is your house filled with your pieces?

“No, my wife and I are makers. We don’t need to keep any of our own art. We have to sell our work in order to continue creating new pieces.”

[Q] What is one piece of advice that has helped you on your path?

“’Mistakes are my mentors.’ And when you pursue a passion of making things… there can and will be a lot of mistakes. Learn from them.”

All of Jesse’s work can be viewed on his website at:

This content was produced in collaboration between Buffalo Rising and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. The facts and opinions published in Buffalo Rising express solely the thoughts and opinions of our respective authors.

Written by BN360


BN360 is the region’s premier young professionals program. Through a variety of programs and events, BN360 focuses on the tenets of: connect, develop, and empower—creating an inclusive and collaborative network of resources that can empower talented individuals to achieve their goals for professional growth and success. BN360 is a program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

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