Painter and potter Chioke Morais opened the doors to Bent Wing Pottery in July 2023. This undertaking was a bit of a dream come true for Morais. “I’ve done a lot of Artisans shows over the years, which was great, but when this space became available, I grabbed it,” Morais said. “I’m loving it.”
The interior of Bent Wing is lovely, which isn’t surprising given Morais’ 10 years of carpentry experience. With hardwood floors throughout, sparkling white walls, great lighting, and handcrafted tables and shelves made by Morais and woodworker Zachary Pinerio, the space has a high-end gallery feel, mixed with a warm Island charm.
Morais has lived on the Vineyard for 15 years. His wife, Mathea Morais, had been coming to the Island since she was a child. “We’ve known each other since we were 6 years old,” Morais said. “Her mom owned a house in Chilmark, and we ended up moving there. We winterized it, and thought we’d give it a try. And we loved it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Morais built a studio in the basement of his house, giving him the space he needed to create and grow as an artist. “I like keeping my work space separate,” he said. “I don’t want to work while I’m in the gallery, and I don’t want to try to talk to people while I’m throwing.”
Growing up on Long Island, Morais can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t creating. “I remember watching my mom draw when I was a kid. I thought her drawings were gorgeous, so I picked up a pencil and never stopped,” Morais said.
His father was a photographer in Harlem. “My dad was a huge jazz fan — and so am I — and he did a series of photos inspired by his favorite album, ‘Song for My Father,’ by Horace Silver. A number of years ago, I took his pictures and painted them, calling them ‘Songs from My Father,’” Morais said.
Luckily, Morais didn’t toss his creative interests aside as he got older. He attended the prestigious Parsons School of Design for a bit, but as many artists can attest, the cost of school was prohibitive. “I went to Parsons for about two years, but it was so expensive, and there was no one else but me paying for it, so I left,” Morais said.
Leaving Parsons certainly doesn’t seem to have impacted him negatively. His paintings and ceramic pieces are concise, bold, colorful, and striking. One of the first pieces to catch my eye is a painting titled “Nala & Madis.” The painting is of two girls who are longtime friends of Morais’ daughter Zora. The painting is 3 by 5 feet, but it’s not just the size that makes the piece so impactful, it’s also Morais’ strong painting skills, and the variety of mediums used to create it. Alongside acrylic, the piece has elements of fabric and photocopied images layered in as well. There are real buttons on the girls’ shirts, and tan striped fabric on the rim of one of their hats. The color choices are strong, and the wrinkles in the girls’ shirts look as if you can reach out and touch them. The three-dimensional elements and bright yellow textured background make the girls pop, almost as if they might step out from the canvas into the room.
Some of Morais’ other work includes ceramic bowls and vases, as well as his popular Bent Wing Mug, which is his bread and butter. The mug’s hearty size makes it perfect for a big cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, or a vessel for ice cream. “The idea for the mug started because of this guy I knew. He was an ex-football player. One time he said to me, ‘My hands are too big for regular cups. The handles are too small. Can you make a mug that will fit my hands?’” Morais said. “The mugs have gone through six iterations, but for the past two years, I’ve been happy with the design.”
Morais’ ceramic bowls are glazed with a variety of wonderful colors, ranging from natural greens and blues to lively oranges and yellows. “I mix most of my own glazes to get the brilliant colors. I wasn’t a fan of bright colors in the least, but when I started mixing and playing around with colors, people started loving them. So I thought, ‘Well, maybe I do like bright colors,’” he laughed.
As for the future of Bent Wing Gallery, Morais recognizes how hard it is for artists to find spaces to show, so he plans to feature other artists (both local and off-Island). Currently, Pinerio of Chappaquiddick Wood Co. has work in the gallery, as well as ceramic artist Francis Creney, and Italian artist Jules Maidoff.
What’s next for Morais creatively? “Nala & Madis” is just one piece out of a series of paintings he’s doing of Island children. He’s also planning to make large ceramic plates over the winter: “Winter is my time to create. In February, the lights in Bent Wing Pottery will be off, and I’ll be in my studio working.”
Bent Wing Pottery, 5 Beach St., Vineyard Haven. Current hours: 11 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Saturday (and some Sundays) until Jan. 1. To learn more about Bent Wing Gallery, visit bentwingpottery.net.