Della's Pepoles, 1996
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Ink, marker, and gouache on laid paper
7 x 7 in
"Della's Peoples" is an original ink, marker, and gouache work on laid paper from 1996 by Della Wells. It is signed on the lower right. Perhaps the reason this work is called "Della's Peoples" is because it employs the imagery that is personal to Wells. Two black children hold a chicken, which in Wells' iconography stands for a hard and traumatic lesson she learned as a child: some things must die in order for others to live. The fish above the girls point to the Biblical story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. While the picture seems to point to a narrative, no easy story exists in Wells' work. Born in 1951, Della Wells grew up in Milwaukee. As a child and young person, she did not want to become an artist but a storyteller; to this day she considers herself to be a “visual storyteller.” She attended MATC and UWM, where she studied African American Studies and Women’s Studies. She sold her first work of art at age 13, but she did not begin working as an artist until she was 42. She has said, “I didn’t do anything for a long time, because I didn’t think I had anything to say. You can draw, you may know how to do things technically, but I think to be a true artist you have to have something to say. You have to have a vision.” Her creative process stems from her personal experiences and her works are often inspired by her troubled childhood. Known for her collages, drawings, dolls, paintings, and pastels, Wells has created a magical land called “Mambo” populated and ruled primarily by black women. Wells is a self-taught artist and her work has been successful in “outsider art” venues, including the Outsider Art exhibition in New York. Wells’ art is in more than 100 private and public collections and it has been exhibited in the United States and Europe. She was one of two recipients of the City of Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year Award for 2016. In 2021 her work was introduced at Untitled (Art Basel) Miami. Wells’ art has appeared in various publications, including Self-Taught, Outsider and Folk Art Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources by Betty-Carol Sellen and Cynthia J. Johnanson and Permission to Paint Please: A 150 Year History of African American Artists in Wisconsin by Evelyn Patricia Terry. A play about her life, Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly, was written for performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. She has illustrated two children’s books. Her work has been purchased by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her collages are sold at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.