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Iowa Artist

Jill Wells

9/4/2019

Artist finds her voice, discovers her roots through painting.

As a youth, Jill Wells accompanied her grandmother to painting sessions in a lady’s basement, painting “whatever,” varying from still life to outdoor scenery. Yet, when she attended Drake University for a fine arts degree, a professor helped her find her voice and infuse that into her paintings.

“I never thought of painting my stance on things or sharing my voice with others,” she says. “My professors helped create and discover my roots for painting.”

Growing up in a small Midwestern town, black history month was “non existent,” lacking exposure to her ethnic and cultural background. While at her college library, Wells came across old black history photos and felt the need to paint a scene depicting slaves in the cotton fields.

“I felt I could tap into emotion through these scenes, and I knew I wanted to paint it — to give a voice to those in the cotton fields,” she explains.

As a result, many of her paintings have a traditional cotton worker in the field, followed by a central figure in different garb. One painting portrays a girl in a graduation cap and gown, signifying her hope for the future.
At age 18, Wells painted a wall mural inside Creative Visions, an agency providing services for low-income minorities. Her mother knew about the art and didn’t view the painting until after she finished it — for a specific reason.

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“My mom told me that my dad had passed away at that same location when I was 2 years old. She didn’t want to tell me until after I’d completed the painting,” she says. “For me to have been brought to this place was an amazing coincidence. To leave a legacy here was very cool.”

In addition, other mural work has appeared in Des Moines. At the Blank Park Zoo, an underwater scene entices visitors. A mural at the Walnut Creek YMCA depicts swimmers in the pool. The adolescent wing at Lutheran Hospital offers a relaxing beach scene.

Wells’ full-time job as a substance abuse counselor came to a halt when she became a full-time artist. Once she quit, things happened.

“I quit and gave it to God,” she says. “Then an explosion of work came my way. It was like an emotional breakthrough with my mindset. I tried to tap into it to conceptualize my painting with what I wanted to create and the emotions to deal with.”

During her full-time art stint, she “found herself” and eventually returned to counseling at Orchard Place. She also teaches ASAP — After School Arts Program — to young kids.

She recently displayed art at the Waukee Arts Festival and The heART show at Wooly’s. Wells continues to take risks in art, as she learned from her grandmother, refraining from pigeonholing herself into the same look. Whatever she paints, she desires an emotional connection.

“I’ll always work as authentic as I can. I’m going to paint forever, no matter who sees it,” she says. “It’s part of who I am.” ♦

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