WILMINGTON, Del. — Sitting as still as she could, Ellie Wallace felt the pressure of strange scrutiny.

She could not see behind the easel to what her portrait artist was creating, and it made her nervous. Like many of the others who’d come to the Delaware Art Museum Sunday, it was a new nervousness.

“Having sat through a portrait and watching someone painstakingly focus on all the details of my face, it really opened my eyes,” Wallace said. “You really focus on how you hold your face. It caused me to over analyze what I was doing and looking like.”

“Portraits of Wilmington” brought more than a dozen local artists together with the 40 who’d made themselves available to sit for a free, hour-long portrait session. It was part of the Delaware Art Museum’s Connected Series, which feature community-produced events.

Participants eventually will get to take their hand-drawn portraits home, but first, they’ll be the centerpiece of an art exhibit. The time and location of that exhibit have not yet been determined.

“Portraiture is just a lost art,” said Colette Gaiter, a University of Delaware art professor and the founder of Beauty Shop Project Delaware, which put on the event. “It’s just a little snapshot of a piece of Wilmington’s community.”

Despite its name, Portraits of Wilmington drew subjects from the surrounding area as well. That included Mic Matarrese, a Newark actor, and his wife and daughter, Ruby.

Each sat for their portrait at the same time on separate stools in front of different artists. Though Matarrese said he came expecting a group portrait, he found something special in each image.

“I thought it was optimistic and bright and penetrating,” Matarrese said of his portrait. “And from the artist that was working on my daughter, I got a lot of love, a lot of cherishing.”

There was something attractive, Matarrese said, about a family memento that was created with human effort rather than the simple shutter of a camera.

“When I look at my daughter, I see something just slightly different than what is on that paper. I like both of them, and I don’t have access to the other one unless I let her sit down for 40 minutes and let a woman draw her,” Matarrese said.

Stacey Davidson, an arts professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina, led the day’s project and took Matarrese as her first subject of the day.

There’s always the hope a portrait will capture and reveal the subject, but Davidson said what she aims for and what she teaches is more focused on the hard fact of aesthetic.

“I’m looking at shape. I’m looking at purely abstract qualities. That’s a particular kind of concentration that’s completely non-judgmental,” Davidson said. “It’s a kind of plain truth.”

But Holly Whitney, whose husband is a museum employee, said she found in the physical attributes of her portrait something that revealed a part of herself.

“She did a good job capturing not just an image of me but a little bit deeper of who I am,” Whitney said. “A lot of me is in my eyes, and she captured my eyes.”


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com