Willem Volkersz first became interested in art environments after images of the Watts Towers were shown by one of his professors at the University of Washington. In 1964, he drove to Los Angeles to see Rodia’s work for himself and then began searching for and documenting environments throughout the United States. He was a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute (1968-86) and Montana State University (1986-2001) and was the curator of the traveling exhibition Word and Image in American Folk Art (1986-1988), Robert E. Smith: Story Painter (1988), and The Radiant Image (1994).
The majority of the Volkersz Collection was recently donated to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Missoula Art Museum, and the Hallie Ford Art Museum at Willamette University. Volkersz received a Mellon Senior Fellowship in the Humanities for research at the University of Kansas in 1983 and a Fulbright Senior Scholar award to document environments in France, Switzerland, and Germany in 1990. His documentation of environments is often included in journals and books, and many of his interviews with artists are in the collection of the Archives of American Art. In 2020, Volkersz received the Montana Governor’s Art Award. Volkersz lives in Bozeman, Montana where he has an active studio practice.