Leading graphic artist and art teacher, James Lesesne Wells was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Wells was born on November 2nd, 1902 in Atlanta, Georgia, and died on January 20th, 1993 in Washington, D.C. Like Zora Neale Hurston, Wells' father was a Baptist minister and mother, a teacher, and he also moved at an early age with his family to Florida. He painted and did woodwork, earning prizes and awards from the age of thirteen. He transferred from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to Teachers College, Columbia University (BS, Department of Fine Arts, 1927) and went on to study art at the National Academy of Design.
In 1929 he became a crafts instructor at Howard University, where he taught block printing, ceramics, clay modeling, and sculpture. Though known for innovative print making (linocuts), he gained recognition as a painter whose work reflected the African-American experience and the drama of everyday life. During the Great Depression he directed a summer arts program, assisted by Charles Alston (also a Teachers College alumni), Jacob Lawrence, and Georgette Seabrooke, in a Harlem nightclub. Wells eventually retired from teaching in 1968 but continued to work as an artist and was widely exhibited throughout his lifetime.
The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.
- Artist Illustrates Lindsay's "Congo": James Lesesne Wells' Eight Linoleum Cuts Used In Golden Book. (1929, Sep 25). The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938)
- Medal and $400 Awarded J. L. Wells, Negro, Artist: Harmon Foundation Trophy Is Given For Wood Block Prints. (1931, Feb 08). New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Famed Wells Painting Donated To Institute. (1931, Apr 01). The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File)
- Kuyper, G. A. (1931, Apr 11). Art Prize Given to Hampton. The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967)
- E, G. P. (1932, Jan 13). Block Prints By Wells Seen As Vivid and Finished Work: Young Artist's Wood Cut Exhibit Will Close Sunday. The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938)
- Miss Ophelia Davidson Bride Of James Wells, Howard Instructor. (1933, Sep 16). Afro-American (1893-1988)
- African Art Exhibited. (1933, Nov 11). Afro-American (1893-1988)
- Howard Artist Has Exhibit At Smithsonian. (1948, Apr 10). New Journal and Guide (1916-2003)
- Trescott, J. (1977, Feb 07). James Wells: Artist, Innovator, Teacher. The Washington Post (1974-Current File)
- Forget, W. (1986, Dec 06). Passion Of the Decades: James Lesesne Wells' 60-Year Retrospective. The Washington Post (1974-Current File)
- Brenna, S. (1988, May 03). Cultural Cauldron. Newsday (1940-1990)
- Levy, C. (1993, Jan 23). Obituaries: Howard U. Artist James Wells Dies. The Washington Post (1974-Current File)
- Try a search in CLIO (Columbia Libraries Information Online), for books, articles, dissertations, and more about James Lesesne Wells.
- Archive Grid, an open source platform of primary source materials held by participating libraries and research institutions, for archival resources on James Lesesne Wells
- African Phantasy, by James Lesesne Wells, Wikimedia Commons
- Special News Slide, Courtesy of Edlab Studios
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