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Week Seven


An on-line drawing exhibition

April through June

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Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present PSG on PAPER, an exhibition about drawing. Each week, the gallery presents the work of one artist. 

All of the work can be purchased on the website's Store (above in menu). We will porch deliver anywhere in the MIlwaukee area free of charge. 

Artists include: Emily Belknap, Melissa Cooke, Steve Burnham, Skully Gustafson (Week One), Pat Hidson (Week Three), Nykoli Koslow (Week Two), Ashley Lusietto (Week Five), David Niec, Rosemary Ollison, Amy O'Neill, Mark Ottens, Nirmal Raja, Rafael Francisco Salas, Della Wells, M Winston (Week Four), Christopher T. Wood. 

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Rosemary Ollison, Untitled (Wrapped Up) 2017. Ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches. 

Welcome to Week Seven of PSG on PAPER, Portrait Society's on-line drawing exhibition. This week we are pleased to present Milwaukee Artist of the Year, Rosemary Ollison. While the gallery has most recently emphasized her textiles, Ollison is also a prodigious maker of drawings. Her compositions absorb a thoughtful processing of memories and past trauma while shining with present exuberance. In her work, women (of all ages) step forward to be fully seen, with pride, strength, style, and unequivocal beauty, 



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Rosemary Ollison in her home/studio. Photo by Lois Bielefeld. 

Working from a modest-sized senior apartment in downtown Milwaukee, Ollison maintains an immaculately organized work space. Materials are sorted, stored, folded and stacked on shelves. Her living area has been fully transformed into an environment with plant-like duct tape sculptures, handmade rugs, leather quilts, framed drawings, beaded curtains, jewelry. Entering Rosemary's realm feels like being in an Eden of the imagination as her creations seem to grow from the floors and walls of her apartment. The environment represents the blossoming of an individual who slowly recovered from trauma, gaining strength as she kept daily journals, wrote poetry, drew and stitched a new life. Rosemary's faith guides her. Her hands move according to God's will. The filmmaker Cecelia Condit recently said that Rosemary's art practice, "seems to grow out of a spiritual place full of energy, guidance, and protection."

Rosemary Ollison, 77, grew up in Arkansas on a plantation and moved to Milwaukee when she was 16 years old. She began making art in 1993 while healing from an abusive marriage. For the next decades she explored a range of media sourced from resale stores. 

Portrait Society first presented her work in a major exhibition in 2016, which included a room-sized installation that was a recreation of her living room, with a four channel video. The gallery has showcased her work for the past four years at the Outsider Art Fair, New York, where major works have entered prestigious collections. She was named Milwaukee Artist of the Year in 2019 and also won a Nohl Fellowship which included an exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art. A solo exhibition, "Prosperity in a Million Scraps," was presented at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in 2019 and included a fashion show. Ollison also designed a hotel room for the new Saint Kate Art Hotel. 

Rosemary Ollison's work is included in the collections of the Chipstone Foundation, the Lynden Sculpture Garden, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. 



Rosemary Ollison, Untitled (Red Pants) Hot Moma series, 2016. Ink and glitter on paper, 24 x 18 inches. 


Each week we ask other artists in the show and occasional guests to comment about the featured artist's work.

Christopher T. Wood
I have enormous respect for Rosemary Ollison and her artwork. Trying to write about it, I feel that I’m not qualified to do so. As though her work exists on a higher plane… has been created in a space I don’t yet have access to and maybe never will. But I will note this: In Rosemary’s work, I observe an interplay between a lightness, and a great weight. There is a lightness to the whimsical representation of figures and joy in the bright colors, and at the same time the work has a density—of value, of color, of material, and of theme—that gives it so much weight. I understand the light to be a beacon in the darkness.

Beth Kushner (attorney, collector)
I fell in love with Rosemary’s work and am more in love as I live with a large fabric piece.  It and Rosemary herself are about seeing the abundance in what otherwise might be overlooked.  Her work is joyful, optimistic, and worthwhile. I sent a video of Rosemary to a friend who teaches art at an East Coast university.  He played it for the class with no introduction and, when it finished, he said to the silent students “that is the real deal.”  He is correct.

Pat Hidson
Rosemary's drawings offer satisfying surprises such as the little face patterns in the hair or the way body part placements are entirely optional. The originality and high level of skill also carries a message: I have always admired the style with which Rosemary and other women artists present themselves with flair and a signaling of well-earned self-respect. Her work addresses what I feel is a profound need to truly honor women in all their endless variety.

David Niec
I am usually taken by a kind of release I feel from Rosemary's work. The drawings appear to be made without inhibition. There is often mark making that feels rapid and tends to produce a multitude of circles or other shapes that just don't want to stay still. Although sometimes the marks are contained within an outline of another form, they don't feel contained. They tend to pulsate, spin, grow, vibrate, dance and almost swim across the page. A proliferation of exuberance is a good way to describe her work. The drawings feel like a kind of energy field.

Debra Brehmer, PSG owner/director
When I think of the ways women have been marginalized over the centuries, it is as if Rosemary Ollison steps in and defies each categorization. She works with textiles, fashion and jewelry design -- fields considered 'less than' in the art world. Her practice evolves from faith and personal narrative: also traditionally degraded in the art world. Even as museums and galleries diversify, systemic prejudices hold. Rosemary sheds these obstacles with drive and finesse. Her work carries a subtext of potentiality. The transformative act of making something from nothing reminds us of our own power to turn an average day into an exceptional one. Rosemary's love of materials places her in a context with contemporary artists such as  Chakaia Booker, who uses cast-off rubber tires in her sculptures, Vanessa German, Beverly Buchanan, and the quilters of Gees Bend (to name a few). Rosemary embraces the legacy of making-do, then frees it from necessity to sail ever higher into the art world. 


Rosemary Ollison, Untitled (Beauty in the Depts of Darkness series, 2016.

Ink and glitter on paper, 24 x 18 inches. 

Five questions for Rosemary Ollison

I was and I am motivated to create because it helps me to get in touch with who I am. When I am creating I am at peace.

I started making clothes for my dolls. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t imagine making clothes. As I got older I would buy fashion magazines and wanted the clothes. I could not afford Vogue patterns so I started making outfits that I wanted without a pattern. I still do not use patterns. I just know how to make whatever I see. I never planned on making jewelry. I started stringing beads to decorate my living space. The first jewelry I made was with hogs' neck bones. My brother told me that I would string up anything that had a hole in it.  My grandmother liked neck bones and I liked their shapes and saw their holes so my neck bone jewelry was born.

I don’t just draw an image rather I draw a message. I asked God to show me the real me, the individual He created me to be. Every drawing is an answer to that prayer.  Sometimes I do not understand the message until years later.

At the lowest time in my life when I felt worthless I read an account in the Bible of a lady who said to Jesus that even a dog ate the scraps for its Master’s table. I did not feel worthy of more than scraps so I asked for, and was willing to receive, scraps from God. What I made from scraps was and is so awesome until I will use ONLY scraps.

Women who lack confidence I say to you do what you do best. Take pride in what you are able to do be it ever so small in others opinions. Seek your true identity from a higher power than from others of your kind.


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