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James Lesesne Wells (1902-1993), an artist best known for his colored aquatints and innovative wood engravings, taught at Howard University in the Art Department for more than 30 years. Over the course of his long and productive life, he influenced hundreds of artists.

Wells was born in Georgia and grew up in Florida. He studied at Lincoln University, then earned both his undergraduate and master's degrees at Columbia University. While in New York he participated in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He moved to Washington in 1929 to take a teaching position at Howard, where he founded the graphic arts department.

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration experimented with fine arts serigraphs, or prints, as a medium that would make art more accessible to the masses. Wells chose to devote himself to printmaking. For subjects he often turned to political and civil rights themes, and he participated in protests against segregation in Washington, DC. He also had a long affiliation with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as an artist and illustrator.


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