"Mama's Red Shoes" is an original pastel on paper from 1997 by Della Wells. It is signed on the lower right. This image of red shoes may refer to Wells' mother. Wells bases elements of her works on stories told to her by her mother, a schizophrenic when she was growing up in North Carolina in the 1920s-1940s. The artist later learned that her mother's stories were not always true. These shoes, fancy red high heels, may have been an actual pair of shoes of her mother or one that Wells created based on her mother's stories or on Wells' own myth making.
Artwork Size: 8 1/2"x12"
Frame Size: 15"x17 3/8"
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.