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Children’s Theatre play celebrates Della Wells

by Cass Teague

Della Wells

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly is an original play by Y. York, commissioned by First Stage, inspired by the life and art of Milwaukee collage artist Della Wells. In the play we meet Tonia, an artistic nine-year-old with fantastic dreams of a giant future. Tonia’s mom wants her to be like a doll, perfectly mannered and always the same size. Tonia’s dad wants her to blend into the crowd in a world where African Americans who stand tall are easier to cut down.

This regional premiere is an engaging and humorous look at family life inspired by the life and work of Wells. The cast includes David Chattam, Alicia Haymer, Jessica Kuende, Aleta Myles, and Bralyn Stokes. Performances are at 2 pm, Saturdays and Sundays, Feb. 2, 3, 9 and 10. For each show, there are special events. You can stay after for a ‘question and answer session with the cast and crew on February 2, after the 2 pm show. The theatre is at 25 Middleton St. between Hermitage Ave. and Second Ave. S.

Meet Della Wells

A collection of Wells’ art entitled ‘Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly: An Exhibition of Work by Collage Artist Della Wells’ is on display in the Metro Nashville Arts Commission’s gallery, 800 2nd Ave S., through March 1. Wells will attend a special artist’s reception Friday, Feb. 1 from 2-4 pm at the gallery.

Della Wells is a Milwaukee native who has described herself categorically as a self-taught folk artist, but admits these labels do not suit her properly. She has always been an artist and sold her first work at the age of 13. But she didn’t start working in earnest until age 42.

“Throughout my life people were trying to get me to do art,” she said, “but I did

not have an interest. I didn’t have anything to say.”

Della’s work is about storytelling.

“I make up my own folktales in my work,” she said. “I like to make up my own realities. I find a lot of people make up their own realities.”

It took some effort on the part of a college advisor and friends for Della to begin seeing herself as an artist—she had ambitions toward a PH.D in psychology. Now Della’s work ranges from collage and pastels to quilting. She has shown all over the United States and abroad. Her creative process stems primarily from her personal experiences, embellished through the art of storytelling into a visual work.

“I see myself as a storyteller,” she said, “and maybe I’m still finding my story.”

Her images reflect her own experiences and occasionally the interpretation of other people’s experiences. Her work is about life and therefore living.

“Art is many things,” said Della, “I think we tend to think that it’s just paintings and sculptures—but art is everything. Art is this floor. Art is man’s desire to create. Art is also, to find you. Art is how we live our lives.”

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