Heads or Tails: ceramics and Della Wells

5-headsDates: November 18 through December 23, 2017
Opening Reception: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, November 18, 2016
Gallery hours: Thursday – Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Gallery Talk with Della Wells: Sunday, December 18, 2 p.m. FREE.
Bonnie North: WUWM radio interview with Della Wells.
Kat Minerath: The Wisconsin Gazette, review
Diane Bacha: Review, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present two new major exhibitions opening November 18 from 6 to 8 p.m.

della-wells-dolls-2“Alice’s Tea Party and Other Musings of a Little Colored Girl,” is a room-sized installation by Della Wells, who was named 2016 Artist of the Year by the City of Milwaukee. Wells is known for her collages, drawings, fabric sculptures, assemblages and quilts. Her art works are often based on personal experiences and family histories.

For this exhibition, Della Wells has created a room of 150 hand-painted fabric dolls ranging in size from 6 inches to five feet tall, engaged in a tea party. Wells said she loved dolls as a child even though they were white skinned. When an aunt finally gave her a black doll, it became one of her favorites along with the ‘pillow’ doll her mother had given her. Wells thinks that her mother had ordered that doll from a cereal company for 25 cents. She was blond, blue eyed with a checkered dress. When Della began making dolls 18 years ago, she did it to stay in touch with her childhood and her mother, Alice, to whom this project is dedicated. Alice was schizophrenic, but undiagnosed and without treatment until Della was 19 years old, making the artist’s childhood a difficult sorting of fact and fiction.

della-with-dollWells says, “I realized that the root of my mother’s mental illness may have been because like so many black little girls in America, they are not seen as having value. America simply sees them as little faceless colored girls and for many of them, America can be as crazy as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. The dolls are there to help Alice with her journey. Tea parties were important in the African American community, a place to discuss political, church and community business. Sometimes I think of my mother as Alice in Wonderland and would have loved to have had a tea party with her if I could have — if she could have been normal. But she wasn’t.”

Della Wells’ work has been exhibited at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, IL. She is a well-respected advocate for black artists in Milwaukee. Her work has been included in various publications including Self Taught, Outsider and Folk art Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources by Betty-Carol Sellen and Cynthia J. Johnanson.


Heads or Tails is Portrait Society’s second annual ceramic survey, with this year’s focus being human busts or animals. It is an invitational group project where diverse artists were asked to submit work. At least half of the artists participating are not ‘ceramic’ artists per se but were willing to experiment with the medium.

patchyParticipating artists include: Steve Burnham, Ty Bender, Norman Lasca, Carol Rhody, Darlene Wesenberg, Michael Ware, Melissa Johnson, John Riepenhoff, Brian James Bartlett, Nirmal Raja, Kathryn Corbin,  Mike Newhall, Rory Burke, Meghan Sullivan, Debbie Kupinsky, Linda Kowaleski, Audrey Jerabek, Craig Clifford, Demitra Coupolos, Julia Taylor, Claire Loder, Joan and Melitta S. Pick, Sara Caron, Fred Stonehouse, Colin Matthes, Makeal Flammini, Ariana Huggett, Skully Gustafson and Jessica Laub.

michael-newhallIn addition to the group exhibition, the gallery is bringing the work of renowned ceramic artist, Claire Loder, of Bath, England to the US. Claire has been making bodiless clay heads for ten years. Memory, contemplation and melancholy are perpetual undercurrents in her work as well as the transgressive role of comedy. Feminism is also a recurring subject. steve-burnham-headsNotable in these works is her use of texture applied to the simple round and oval forms of the faces. Within this reductive vocabulary, Loder manages to evoke emotion and personality. She received her BA in 1993 from Bath Spa University and earned her MA in ceramics from the University Wales Institute Cardiff in 2006. Portrait Society will also present a suite of her recent drawings, executed for this show.

For additional images or information, contact Debra Brehmer, gallery director, 414 870-9930, portraitsocietygallery@gmail.com.






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