Art for Life

This is the Blog for, the official website of Delaware artist Michael J. Riley.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Black Delaware Artist Story

I appreciated reading an article in the News Journal on May 6, 2008 concerning Mr. Harmon Carey’s efforts to gain exposure for local Black artists. The article was extremely well written and for some, possibly a revelation. However, unfortunately, I am too familiar with the article’s subject matter.

Society needs to realize that whether an artist is Black or White has no bearing on the quality of work he/she produces. It is possible that race might influence the subject or style an artist may prefer. However, the relevancy of his/her work needs to be determined by skill and originality, along with personal, social, religious or economic value, etc.

I believe that exposure is only one piece of the puzzle and that the artists mentioned in the article represent only a portion of a greater equation. In addition to Mr. Loper’s, there are other bloodlines of African American artists in Delaware. I respect and appreciate Mr. Loper’s and other's accomplishments and contributions in the field of art. However, my mentor was the late Mr. Theodore E. Wells, I.

Mr. Wells was one of the most fascinating and talented artists whom I have ever met. He served his country during World War II, was very well educated and dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. Unfortunately, Mr. Wells passed away in 1998. However, his legacy lives on in the form of his existing works, which seem to be appreciated more on the national and international level as opposed to the local level, and in all of the students he has taught privately and in his role as an educator at Bancroft Middle School. Mr. Wells is listed in the Encyclopedia of Who's Who in American Education.

I owe a significant debt to Mr. Wells, as he inspired me to pursue my education and to aspire to become a professional artist. As a matter of fact, Mr. Wells used to provide me with costly art supplies during my time as a student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia in the 1980’s and continued to mentor me until his untimely death. I am humbled that his family thought so much of our relationship, that upon his passing, they gave me the majority of his art-related tools and supplies, including the monogrammed bag that he used to tote his wares during the 1940’s.

I feel that although seeking exposure is a vital step in launching one's art career, it is only one leg of a long and challenging journey. The ultimate goal for many serious artists, Black or otherwise, is gaining representation and appreciation of their art, which can only be accomplished through perseverance and inclusion. Until all local artists have access to equal exposure and representation, then the image of Delaware’s art community will continue to be perceived as having been painted utilizing a limited palate and lacking the impact and brilliance provided by a full spectrum of color.


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