Della Wells current exhibition, “Another Happy Mambo Day: The Invented worlds of Della Wells,” is on view at the Wright Museum, Beloit College, through November 19, 2017. Catalog essay by M. Shadee Malaklou, “Welcome to ‘Mambo Land,’ where black lives matter because they don’t: An Afro-pessimist reading of Della Wells’ black feminist world-making.”
Della Wells was born in 1951 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is a self-taught artist. As a child, she made up stories and characters, many based on her mother’s recollections of growing up in North Carolina during the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. Wells used these stories to escape the uncertain realities created by her mother’s mental illness and her father’s rage. She eventually used them to inspire the collage art she creates today.
Wells feels strongly that “being a master of your spiritual self does not come until you understand from where you came from.” She incorporates her own folklore in her work which often has subtle symbols from the civil rights struggle. Wells works in various media, from collage, to painting and folk art dolls.
She was one of the two recipients of the City of Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year Award for 2016.
Wells’ work 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 the book, Permission To Paint Please: A 150 Year History of African American Artists in Wisconsin written by Evelyn Patricia Terry.
Wells’ work is exhibited in Europe and throughout the U.S. in folk art and outsider galleries from coast to coast.
A play about her life, “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly” was written for a performance at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. and it was also presented in Wisconsin. Her work was also provided illustrations for a children’s book published by National Geographic and for another book to be published in 2016, Electric Angel.
Wells’ work is exhibited in Europe and throughout the U.S. in folk art and outsider galleries.