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Born 1951, Milwaukee, WI.

Della Wells, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a self-taught artist. As a child, she invented stories and characters, inspired by her mother’s fanciful tales 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 strongly feels 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 have been held at Andrew Edlin Gallery, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, the Cedarburg Art Museum, WI in 2020, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2019, the Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, in 2018, and the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2013. A play about her life by Y York, Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly, was part of the New Voices/New Visions Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C in 2010, premiered in 2011 at the Marcus Center in Milwaukee, and has been staged in Nashville, TN, Charlotte, NC, and Richmond, VA. In 2023, she was the 2023 Annette and Dale Schuh Visiting Artist at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

In 2024, her collage “Together” was acquired by the Milwaukee Museum of Art for their permanent collection.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS
2024
Della Wells: Mambo Land, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY (upcoming)

2022
Della Wells: Souls Bloom In This Garden, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY

2020
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

2019
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

2018   
Her Story, My Dreams: The Images of Della Wells, Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, IL 

2017    
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 

2013    
Wisconsin 30, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI

2006    
Don't Tell Me I Can't Fly: Folk Tales by Della Wells, Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI

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