From the Austrian Alps, to the coast of Sicily, to a village in Spain, words and art have the power to transport us around the world. They also have the power to bring us back home to a farm in Washington County, Tennessee. Children’s book author/illustrator Rhea Wells ventured far and wide throughout his life, but he always held his hometown of Jonesborough near and dear to his heart. Wells’ work will be showcased in the exhibit Far Away and Close to Home: The Art and Words of Author/Illustrator Rhea Wells which will be on display at the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School from January 26 through February 23. The exhibit will be open to the public from 9-5 Monday-Friday and 10-3 on Saturday. Far Away and Close to Home is presented by the Heritage Alliance and is funded in part by a grant from Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Far Away and Close to Home will feature artwork from Wells’ art school portfolio, as well as illustrations from some of his books. What types of styles did Wells practice with in art school? How did these early works, never before displayed in public, influence the rich illustrations that filled Wells’ later books? What parts of his childhood in Washington County did he write about, and where did his inspiration for Beppo the Donkey and Ali the Camel come from? Wells was writing in the 1920s and 1930s, when the field of children’s literature was just developing. What is his legacy as an author? What is his legacy to Jonesborough, and does it still stand today? The answer to these questions and more can be found in Far Away and Close to Home in the McKinney Center, and in a companion exhibit on Wells’ life in the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum at the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center.
A series of programs are planned around the exhibit, beginning with an opening night reception and art/history talk at 6:30 on January 26 at the McKinney Center. Children will be able to make and illustrate their own books at the Jonesborough Library on Saturday, February 3. To carry on Wells’ tradition of advocacy for libraries and literacy, the Heritage Alliance will host a panel discussion with local librarians and educators on February 16 at 6:30 at the McKinney Center. Wells was a community builder, and Far Away and Close to Home is a partnership with the McKinney Center and the Town of Jonesborough, the Reece Museum at ETSU and the Jonesborough Public Library. We hope that Wells’ art and books will help to inspire a new generation of authors, illustrators, artists, and readers.