“This and Then This”: The Sculpture of Zan Wells

I’m not sure what’s in Sumter’s water, but to look at the list of noted people with connections to this area can be a bit mind-blowing, especially considering that we are a smallish Deep South city that, prior to World War II, was known mostly (if at all) for its farming and railroads.  We’ve grown quite a bit, thanks largely to our industries and Shaw Air Force Base, but it still seems that we have something more than our share of talented citizens, who have gone on to leave their mark on American history, sports, and the arts.

Among our noted visual artists whose works have been collected and exhibited both nationally and internationally, we have a pretty influential “brag list,” including Jasper Johns, Robert Courtright, Corrie McCallum, Grainger McKoy, Elizabeth White, Sylvester Hickmon, Ray Davenport, Rose Metz, and part-time local resident Jen Pepper—all of whom were born and/or lived in Sumter at some time in their lives (and some of whom still do).

Opening on Monday, September 10th at Patriot Hall’s Gallery135 is a special exhibit featuring another outstanding homegrown talent.  Artist Zan Wells’ works, particularly her bronzes, are featured in private collections throughout the United States.  She was also instrumental in the “Mice on Main” installation in downtown Greenville, SC, and illustrated a children’s book of the same name.  Her life-sized rendering of Joel Roberts Poinsett was featured here several months ago.  Additionally, she created a series of 22 Carolina wrens for the city of Anderson, and a bale of turtles in Pickens, SC.  Locally, her work can be seen in the Heath Gardens at Swan Lake—the girl and boy figures located near the entrance gate and at water’s edge.  Astonishing in their detail, the bronze figures were a wonderful addition to the park in 2003.

“This and Then This” is a special exhibit of the collective mixed media accomplishments of Ms. Wells, centering on how the bronze process develops and the stages needed to complete a work.  A press release from the Gallery says that “Zan Wells is self-taught in many media, such as watercolor, oils, pen and ink, charcoal and pencil, pottery, and skilled, intricate dressmaking; yet her many statewide commissions have been in contemporary metal and figurative bronzes. Booth Chilcutt (Executive Director of the Sumter County Cultural Commission) is so very pleased to have an artist of her caliber and states, ‘This is a well-rounded exhibit of her varying talents in one location and we will be honored to also present a newly created piece to be shown for the first time.’”  And as if she were not already amazing enough, Ms. Wells did not begin her career as a professional sculptor until age 55—which should be encouraging to the many late bloomers who have dreamed of creating for a living, but worry that it’s too late.  Obviously, it isn’t!

Gallery135 is located at Patriot Hall Performing Arts Center, 135 Haynsworth Street in Sumter’s residential historic district.  The Wells exhibition runs from September 10 through October 19, and admission is FREE to the public.  Exhibit hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For more info, please call (803) 436-2260.

The artist says that she wants “the viewer to experience the thought processes of an artist, and understand how experimentation is part of that artistic journey.”  With her rare talent, whimsy and humor, viewers of Ms. Wells’ special collection will come away with a good deal more.

Thanks to Mary Ellen Fuller and the Sumter County Cultural Commission for some of the information in this post.

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