Dorothy Henriques-Wells

1926St Andrew, Jamaica | 2018Miami, United States

Jamaican painter and educator.

In 1950 Jamaican painter Dorothy Henriques-Wells was the first Black student to graduate from the Ontario College of Art in Canada (now the Ontario College of Art and Design) obtaining a diploma in painting and drawing. A skilled watercolourist, her artistic ambitions were nurtured at an early age by her parents, who were themselves artists; her father was a jeweller and her mother an oil painter. At age 12 D. Henriques-Wells was placed under the tutelage of Armenian artist Koren Der Harootian (1909-1991) in his studio. K. Der Harootian was one of the most significant contributors to the education of the young Jamaican artists who later became noteworthy pioneers in the country’s art movement. K. Der Harootian encouraged his student’s interest in painting local genre scenes, landscapes, flora and fauna; and these subjects remained a consistent part of D. Henriques Wells’ oeuvre.

She emerged from a generation of Jamaican artists that were eager to redefine the visual art representing their homeland and the people that had previously been dominated by colonial ideals in the pre-twentieth century and early 1900s. Her ebullient use of colour, which became a defining element in her work, was a celebration of the landscape that showed a true delight in nature and a continuous desire to experiment with her medium. Her poetic, sometimes sparse portraits were often meditative. The painting Sanko (c. 1984), done while she was living in Senegal, is a vibrant mix of fluid brushstrokes – with her signature blank background capturing her subject in contemplation and inviting the viewer to share her fascination with personality.

D. Henriques-Wells also dedicated her life to the development of the Jamaican artistic community and the viability of visual arts as a career. To that end she opened a commercial gallery called the Art Wheel in 1968, which represented renowned local artists such as Albert Huie (1920 -2010) and Cecil Baugh (1908-2005) amongst others. She went on to help found the Jamaican Artists and Craftsmen Guild which among other goals sought to dispel the hierarchies between the fine arts and craft. She taught for more than twenty years at some of Jamaica’s leading tertiary institutions including the University of the West Indies and the Mico Teachers’ College. She exhibited numerous times at the Institute of Jamaica’s All Island shows, the Victoria Craft Market Tercentenary as well as in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Annual National and Biennial exhibitions. In 1987 the Institute of Jamaica awarded D. Henriques-Wells the Silver Musgrave Award for outstanding merit in the field of visual arts.

O’Neil Lawrence

A text produced as part of the “The Origin of Others” program in partnership with the Clark Art Institute.

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