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Milwaukee Artist Della Wells Explores the Unseen in 'Alice's Tea Party'

Courtesy of Deb Brehmer

Della Wells was one of two people Milwaukee named as'Artists of the Year' in 2016, and all you have to do is look at the scope and range of her body of work to understand why.

From large-scale paintings and collages to pillow dolls that would fit in your pocket, the Milwaukee native explores her blackness and her gender through her art.

Credit Courtesy of Deb Brehmer
Artist Della Wells posing with her dolls.

A collection of her dolls is currently on display at the Portrait Society Gallery in the Third Ward. The show, called Alice's Tea Party and Other Musings of a Little Colored Girl, includes 150 hand-painted, fabric dolls. The dolls vary greatly in size with some standing only 6 inches high and others a towering 5 feet tall. 

Wells writes a poem for each doll, often odd and offbeat descriptions of its personality. The poems are an important part of the dolls, which Wells includes as a reminder that there is always more than meets the eye. 

"I used to make up stories when I was a little kid, and I'm really fascinated with fairytales, myths and cartoons. And as I got older I realized that a lot of fairytales, cartoons and stuff for children, really are not very nice tales. You think about Hansel and Gretel, you know, a witch eating them up," says Wells. "So I want to create work in that vein. You can say, 'Oh, it's so cute,' and then sometimes you realize maybe it's not so cute or nice." 

The exhibit, Alice's Tea Party and Other Musings of a Little Colored Girl, is at the Portrait Society Gallery through December 23rd. Wells will give an artist's talk the afternoon of Sunday, December 18. 

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.