'It's exciting for me': Artist Della Wells' work to appear in Milwaukee Art Museum permanent collection

NOW: ’It’s exciting for me’: Artist Della Wells’ work to appear in Milwaukee Art Museum permanent collection

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – One of city's longest working artists was recently honored by the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Her unique style of art tells stories of culture, spirituality, and society.

For more than 30 years, Milwaukee artist Della Wells has been making her mark.

"I don't think, in our society, that we appreciate artists enough, and almost everything is art," Wells said.

Her path to artistry wasn't traditional.

"I can't say that I had an interest in me doing art, but I had an interest in other people doing art," Wells explained.

When she was 18 years old, Della came across the Gallery Toward the Black Aesthetic, an art space in Milwaukee's Bronzeville neighborhood.

She volunteered there for two years.

"It was the first time that I actually saw art from black artists," Wells said.

After years working in other industries, Della went to college for the first time while in her 30s.

"I was going to be a psychologist, and I was taking all these academic courses at Milwaukee Area Technical College," she explained.

For a Humanities class, she had to write a research paper about an artist.

"I wanted to write on a black artist, and I wanted to write on somebody in Milwaukee, because I knew most of them were going to write on Picasso, Van Gogh," she remembers.

Della chose Evelyn Patricia Terry, an artist she met when volunteering at the gallery as a teenager.

"So, I called Evelyn up, and I said, I want to do a paper on you. And she said, 'I remember you, you're an artist,' and I thought to myself, no, you're out of your mind," Wells laughed.

A few years later, Evelyn invited Della to an art show.

"When I went in, a voice told me to go make art," she remembers. "I did a model print and two pastels, and they turned out, and so that's how I start making art."

That was the turning point.

Della joined art shows across Milwaukee, showing off her collage-style pieces that tell cultural stories.

"The main thrust of my work is about black women," Wells explained.

Her collages are set in a place she created called "Mamboland": world where black women rule.

"When girls come in this world, they come in, we come in killing it," she said. "Something happens to us when we get 11, 12, 13, 14, we start pulling back, we don't really be ourselves."

Her message is about harnessing the power women have.

She uses recurring imagery, like apples, American flags, chickens, and flowers.

"If you see flowers in my work, it's about transformation of the soul, how the soul blooms," she explained.

The collages are made with magazines, fabrics, and found items.

Della wants those that see her art to put themselves in the narrative.

"I know what the work is about myself, but I want them to feel free to create their own stories," she said.

Soon, you'll be able to see her work in the city's most popular gallery.

This March, Della Wells was honored by the Milwaukee Art Museum with a sold-out event.

"It was to celebrate me and to unveil the piece they bought for their collection, called 'Together,'" she said.

Her piece is now part of the Museum's permanent collection, and it will be on display later this year.

The collage represents the black family as a whole.

"I wanted to give a tribute to the black family, but particularly black men, and this piece has the flowers on it, so I wanted to give black man their flowers," Wells explained.

After three decades in the Milwaukee art scene, being in the museum gives Della a great sense of pride.

"The main thing that I want to do is, even though all my grandchildren are grown, I want my grandchildren to see it, and my great grandson and granddaughters to see it," she said. "It's exciting for me."

A moment coming full circle - that young woman who once looked up to the artists she saw celebrated around her, joins their ranks.

"There's a lot of things that's going on with a lot of artists here, inside and outside the black community, but people really don't know," Wells said.

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