Local mosaic artist featured at Oceanside Museum of Art

By Kristina Houck

It wasn’t a chapel or a beach, but four couples exchanged vows in a giant Hershey’s Kiss on Valentine’s Day.

The 12-foot tall art piece, which smells like chocolate, is a part of the latest exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art (OMA). Local artist Jean Wells [Hamerslag] was there as the couples got married in her creation during the opening of “Jean Wells: Icons of Desire” on Feb. 14.

“It warmed my heart,” said Wells, who had to reduce the piece from its original 18-foot size for the exhibit. “It made me so happy because what I like to do with my art is bring pleasure to the viewer.”

About 700 people attended the opening of the exhibit, which coincided with the museum’s Art After Dark: Vintage POP! event, said OMA Executive Director Daniel Foster.

“We’ve been getting quite a response from the community,” Foster said. “It is one of the most popular and well-attended exhibitions in our history.”

The exhibit features more than 60 life-size, pop-infused mosaics — some of which Wells had to borrow from her collectors. In addition to the Hershey’s Kiss, other popular pieces include a full-size operating Smart car, a 15-foot-tall lipstick, a Coke bottle and hamburger, and a Tiffany box.

One of Wells’ favorite pieces is “planted” outside in front of the museum. The 17-by-11-foot “Urban Fruit Tree” is topped with items such as ice cream cones, hamburgers, Coke bottles and Hershey’s Kisses.

“As you go through my show, you can see the humor,” said Wells, who grew up in Seattle and has lived in North San Diego County for about 20 years. “I like to poke a little fun, even though it’s serious work and hard work. I like to have a special surprise for everybody that’s viewing.”

A third-generation mosaic artist, Wells served as an apprentice to her father when he worked on a large-scale Byzantine-style mosaic at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.

Wells went on to study graphic design at the University of Washington and worked in the advertising industry while raising her two children. Once her children were grown, she devoted more time to her art and held her first solo show in 2007.

“It’s a highly genetic predisposition and I thoroughly enjoy what I do today,” she said. “This is probably the most exciting part of my career.”

Although she is trained in the art of classical mosaics, she has developed a vision distinctly her own. Inspired by pop culture, all of Wells’ creations are sparkly and most are larger-than-life.

“I love to take something that we see every day and turn it into something spectacular,” she said.

This is the first time her work has been installed at OMA, which is located at 704 Pier View Way in Oceanside. Her work is also currently on display at Boca Museum of Art in Florida as part of “Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.”

“I’ve shown my work all over the world, but I haven’t really shown it in San Diego County. I really am happy to be able to share my work with a lot of my friends here in the area,” Wells said. “I love the Oceanside museum because it shows off my work so well. It has a very contemporary feel and they installed it beautifully.”

The four-month-long exhibition will run through June 15.

A “Mega Exhibition Reception” for Wells — as well as “Solo Exhibition: Kenneth Capps,” “DNA of Creativity” and “Rank n’ File: John Daniel Abel” — will take place from 6-8 p.m. April 12. The event is free for OMA members and $10 for non-members.

OMA is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $8. Admission is $5 for seniors and free for students and military. OMA offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month.

For more information about OMA, call 760-435-3720 or visit


For more information about Wells, visit