Born 1951, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Lives and works in Milwaukee
Della Wells born in, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a self-taught artist. As a child, she invented stories and characters based on her mother’s recollections of growing up in North Carolina during the 1920s through the 1940s. Wells used these stories to escape the uncertain realities created by her mother’s mental illness and her father’s rage and 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.
Her work is exhibited in Europe and throughout the U.S. in folk art and outsider art galleries. Portrait Society Gallery presents her work annually at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. 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. She has illustrated two children’s books.
Recent exhibitions include: Her Story, My Dreams: The Images of Della Wells,” February 6 to June 2, 2018, Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago; Another Happy Mambo Day: The Invented worlds of Della Wells,” Wright Museum, Beloit College, 2017.
Della Wells: Souls Bloom In This Garden, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY
PSG on PAPER, Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
Outsider Art Fair, New York, NY
This is Milwaukee, Five Points Art Gallery, Milwaukee WI
The Road of Democracy, downtown Milwaukee, banner project, WI
Am a Story: Self-Portraits, The Warehouse, Milwaukee, WI
Art + Protest, Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
Eye of the Beholder: African Americans Collecting Art, Cedarburg Art Museum, Cedarburg, WI
Susceptible to Images, Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
Wisconsin Triennial, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI
Women of Wisconsin, Alverno College, Milwaukee, WI
Mary Nohl Suitcase Fund, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee, WI
Museum of Unnatural History, Shoreline City Hall, curated by Anne Grigch, Shoreline, WA
This is America, 5 Points Gallery and Studios, Milwaukee, WI
Outsider Art Fair, New York, NY
Her Story, My Dreams: The Images of Della Wells, Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, IL
New Horizons: Self-Taught Art of the 21st Century, Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, NC
Another Happy Mambo Day: The Invented Worlds of Della Wells, Wright Museum, Beloit College, Beloit, WI
Della Wells: A Spiritual Journey, MoWA's satellite location, Saint John's on the Lake, Milwaukee, WI
The Line I Follow: Drawings, Pastels, and Paintings, Pitch Project, Milwaukee, WI
Wisconsin 30, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
Don't Tell Me I Can't Fly: Folk Tales by Della Wells, Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI