Q&A with Jill Wells, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration Keynote Speaker

Jill Wells

Each year, the Forest Avenue Library honors the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., by holding an event in his name on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year’s event is being held virtually on Zoom. It takes place on Monday, January 17, at 3:30 PM. Registration is free and currently ongoing.

The keynote speaker for this year’s event is Des Moines artist Jill Wells. Wells grew up in Indianola before graduating from Drake University. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the After School Arts Program and works as a full-time Artist. Prior to speaking at the event Monday, Wells answered a few questions about her art. Her responses have been lightly edited for brevity.

What would you describe as your style as an artist?

I am a multimedia, narrative artist who works primarily as an oil painter. So, what does this mean? I integrate touch activated sound, objects, epoxy, braille, paper collage, light and raised line paint into my works. I focus on creating accessible artwork.

In what ways does painting allow you to express yourself that you couldn't do otherwise?

I believe individual expression is oftentimes inhibited as we move through our day-to-day lives. The act of creating, which for me goes beyond painting, removes many barriers that exist when I am not creating or even when I am conceptualizing. Creating is problem solving for me. It provides solutions that I believe cannot be realized in any other process.

How do you approach creating large murals?

I keep two key elements in mind. mural painting and public works projects are not like easel painting, and the mural/public work needs to reflect the community it is placed in and be as accessible as possible.

One very unique thing you've created is braille and touch sensory art. Why was that important to you?

20 years ago, my brother suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage which, among other things, left him without his sight. Afterward, I asked myself how I could create art with him and for him? Now, I have the experience, education, and support to cater beyond sight and create accessible artwork for a broader audience. I have partnered with the Iowa Department for The Blind to complete community workshops in February of 2022 and am in talks with a couple museums on this body of work.

What do the images of the Future mural at the Evelyn K. Davis Center represent to you?

My goal was creating a piece that felt like the heart and spirit of two visionaries, Evelyn K. Davis and J. Barry Griswell. It was vital that this mural be as diverse as possible, without losing legibility. I wanted to include representation in socio-economic classes, walks-of-life, family structure, racial diversity and cultural expression. Depicting this with dignity, in a way our community could see themselves and our world differently, and with a narrative was my mark.

What resonates most about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life to you today?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with the full weight of the civil rights movement and the Federal Government upon him during his pursuit of justice, equality, and freedom. Yet, he remained steadfast. To remain steadfast, in those circumstances, provided a pathway for my freedom, my son’s freedom, my families freedom, our freedom today. That is what most resonates me.

What will you be talking about during the program on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?

Time, unity and honoring our ancestors through creative endeavors.

Published on January 11, 2022
Last Modified January 25, 2022