Jamaican Artist DOROTHY HENRIQUES-WELLS (1926–2018)

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An obituary from ArtForum.

Dorothy Henriques-Wells, a painter who depicted the florals and landscapes of her native Jamaica with a spare yet ebullient lyricism, has died in Miami at ninety-two, according to the Jamaica Observer. In 1950, Henriques-Wells became the first black alumnus of OCAD University, then known as the Ontario College of Art, and she later went on to teach art in Jamaica for more than two decades. A recipient of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Medal for Art and an artist represented in the country’s National Collection, she exhibited in Kingston at the Institute of Jamaica’s Annual All Island shows and the Victoria Craft Market Tercentenary, as well as the Morgan State College in Baltimore, among other venues. In Jamaica, she is known as a master painter because of her watercolors, which are recognizable for their free-flowing lines and vivacious hues.

Born in 1926 in St. Andrew, Jamaica, Henriques-Wells grew up near Kingston on a plot of land lavished with fruit trees, flowers, and other plants. Her father, Llewellyn, was a jeweler, and her mother, Lilieth, was a painter of the natural world. From an early age, Henriques-Wells was inspired by her mother, who would often paint what she planted. Her artistic talent was recognized when she was twelve, and she was sent to take art classes taught by the Armenian artist Koren der Harootian. In 1947 she enrolled at OCAD University, where her interests expanded to include portraiture. Her thesis painting, completed around 1950, depicts a black model in profile wearing a traditional head wrap. Henriques-Wells became OCAD’s first nonwhite graduate since the university’s founding in 1876 and was the only black student to have earned a degree from the school until the 1970s.

After graduating from OCAD, Henriques-Wells moved back to Jamaica, and in 1956, she married veterinary surgeon Carl F. Wells, with whom she raised three children. In 1968, she opened a commercial gallery called the Art Wheel, which represented local artists. Around this time, the Norwegian Cruise Line commissioned her to make more than three hundred works on paper that portrayed Caribbean life and were intended to be permanently displayed on three ships—an undertaking that took the artist two years to complete.

Henriques-Wells went on to help found the Jamaican Artists and Craftsmen Guild, and in the late 1970s she relocated to Barbados, where she was hired to paint a portrait of acclaimed economist Sir Arthur Lewis, a work that still hangs in the Caribbean Development Bank. A visit to Senegal greatly affected the artist, who found inspiration in the country’s culture. In a vibrant palette she painted Senegalese people and markets, often on canvases of rough burlap. She then lived in Washington, DC, before moving to Miami, where her last exhibition was held in January 2016.

Henriques-Wells was a prominent figure around Kingston, and was known for having a personality as radiant as her paintings. “She would wear huge straw hats with fresh flowers stuck in the brim and shocking pink dashiki dresses,” jeweler Jasmine Thomas-Girvan recalled in an interview with Caribbean Beat magazine in 2002. “She constantly sighed and laughed, and looked, to me, like she was having a grand time.”

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