Remembering Sheila Rice

June 2, 2022

Sheila Rice Portrait

“In one’s life there are maybe a handful of people who make a real difference in the path one takes. I have been lucky to have several. Of these, Sheila Rice was one of the most important in the last quarter of my life,” says Roger Wells, retired designer and Cambridge Center for Adult Education student, of his previous instructor.

An accomplished abstract expressionist with gallery showings spanning from Boston to the Middle East, Sheila Alice Brown Rice was classically trained beginning at age 3 in Rockport, MA. She was creating pencil drawings and watercolor paintings before she could write her own name. Growing up in Belmont, MA, Sheila attended art classes in high school and spent her summers under the tutelage of plein air painter, Aldro Hibbard.

Sheila studied her passions of fine art and poetry at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude in 1951. Later, as a wife and new mother, she painted using oil and acrylic, which necessitated a drying schedule that fit with being a young parent of two children.

In 1985, Sheila attended courses at the Boston Museum School and rented a studio to concentrate on her newest love, poured paintings. Diagnosed with synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimuli involuntarily affects other senses, music greatly impacted her creative process. In her Somerville art studio, Sheila could play music to her heart’s content and often titled series of works based on the sounds that inspired them, including her Whale Song series.

Sheila began her teaching career at Cambridge Center for Adult Education in the early 2000s. There she created her signature course, Drawing from the Figure, where students created abstract expressionist works from posed live models. She taught up to four courses each term at CCAE and was the recipient of the coveted Teacher of the Year award.

“At around 70 years old, I decided I should try something I have always sought – to be an accomplished artist,” says Wells. “I knew how to draw but I had things I wanted to say beyond realism. I sensed a version of abstract expressionism could be the ideal fit. In searching for some guidance, I found the course that Sheila offered at CCAE, Gestural Drawing for Abstract Artists. Her course and approach to teaching were the perfect stimulus to get me started. The course was so engaging and informative. Through her gentle critiques she helped me see what I could achieve. As a result, I could see the potential to say something meaningful in an abstract art form really did exist.”

Since his initial class taught by Sheila, Wells has worked as a successful abstract artist for the past ten years, with artwork showcased in over 20 exhibitions throughout New England.

When she retired from teaching at CCAE, Sheila brought her love of painting to fellow residents at her nursing home. Sheila Alice Brown Rice, artist and beloved long-time instructor at Cambridge Center for Adult Education, died peacefully in her sleep on November 30, 2021 at Maristhill Nursing Home in Waltham. Sheila will be remembered for her particular brand of encouraging teaching and unfailing belief in the artist within all of us.