DREAM BIG blog series: DELLA WELLS, artist

What is your official job/job title?
Artist, Grandmother and Great Grandmother

Tonia by Della Wells, inspired by DON'T TELL ME I CAN'T FLY

What do you like most about your job?
As an artist I can make up stuff and I’m in control of it.  As a Grandmother and Great Grandmother I like playing with the kids.  I have four grandkids and one great grandson.

What do you like least about it?
People try to tell you what to create.  Generally I just ignore it because you have to be true to yourself.  Or I just tell them why don’t you do it and create it yourself!

Did you always want to be an artist?

What was your dream job when you were 12 years old?
A writer or an anthropologist…  but once I saw The Mummy (the movie with Boris Karloff) I changed my mind because it really scared me.  I just said no, I don’t want to get cursed!

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
A psychologist or a philanthropist to help other people, particularly people that others have given up on…  poor people, anybody that people don’t value.

How long did it take to become an artist and what did you have to do?
All my life, really.

I went to MATC for psychology and then ended up taking an art history class for my humanities requirement.  I had to do a paper so I choose African-American Milwaukee artist Evelyn Terry
That really opened my eyes.  It never occurred to me before that African Americans made art, or that women made art.  Not just white men.  Evelyn was involved with  Gallery Toward the Black Asthetics.  It was an African-American gallery in Milwaukee in the early 70’s.  I started to hang out there and started writing reviews, learned how to hang shows.  It was really fascinating to me.  Two years later I was enrolled at UWM and Evelyn invited me to her exhibition of mono-prints of Haitian dolls at Peltz Gallery.  Standing in that gallery, something just told me to go create art. 

What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to achieve your dream?
Me.  Having faith in yourself, believing that you should be doing it – a lot of times we are our own worst enemy.
Della Wells with students from the Daniels Mardak Boys and Girls Club 
Was there ever a time that you almost gave up on your dream?  What kept you going?
I really didn’t seriously start doing it until I was 42.  I took more chances because I figure you don’t have that much time to do what you want, so I never gave up on it.  To be honest with you, it was more therapeutic so I really didn’t think about selling or getting into galleries.  But people kept offering to buy it.  I don’t know why. 

One part I don’t like about it – I wish more people would get into what the artist is doing and get into the history of it it’s really important to know the historical context.  You have to learn from what happened in the past otherwise you can’t move forward.

What advice would you give to someone considering this career path?
With any career path – find people that are successful and ask questions, a lot of questions.  Learn what you can and get the right training to learn how to do it.  Basically, find people that’s doing what you want to do and talk to them. 
Believe in yourself but also be open to constructive criticism, and ignore the other criticism. 

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