Jake Wells: Cape Artist

When I saw the name “Jake Wells” on a negative sleeve, it sounded familiar. There was a dim recollection that he had something to do with art, particularly since he had been photographed in a studio surrounded by easels.

The Missourian said he died in 1999 at the age of 81, after 34 years of teaching art at the high school and university level. Wells taught for 14 years at Jackson before joining the Southeast art faculty in 1960, where he served as chair of the department from 1972 to 1976. He retired in 1980.

The black and white photos were taken in 1966 to promote The Missourian‘s annual art show. You can click on the photos to make them larger.

Kent Library Mural

I discovered that he had created some works that hundreds of people see every day. He did a 20′ x 38′ mural in the lobby of SEMO’s Kent Library to commemorate the university’s 100th birthday. One of the largest indoor murals in the state, it was dedicated in 1973.

Bicentennial Mural on Broadway

This 40′ x 80′ Bicentennial Mural on the east side of 405 Broadway depicts the founding of Cape Girardeau. It was completed in July 1992 for the city’s 200th anniversary.

Known for his paintings of Missouri Mills

A Missourian to the core, Wells loved documenting his state. He originally planned to paint watercolors of seven of Missouri’s old water mills. The project grew until he done 27. They were displayed at the university and appeared in a book, Water Mills of the Missouri Ozarks, a collaboration with George Suggs, Jr.

The Missourian has run several interesting stories about Wells that are worth following:


17 Replies to “Jake Wells: Cape Artist”

  1. I have a Jake Wells Burfordville Mill picture numbered 37/100 1978 if anyone is interestedI would sell it. Framed and beautiful.

    1. Curiosity: How much do you want for the Jake Wells print? I have a large water color of the river and a small bridge painting he gave me. Took classes with him. Wonderful teacher…mediocre student. JML

  2. Mr. Wells was such a nice man. His workshop for the mural was my MO. Pub. room at the library. I was in charge for the cataloging and shelving of the documents. As I moved in and out of the locked room, we would exchange pleasantries, and I often stopped to see what he was working on. One day he was particularly focused on his work, so I didn’t say anything as I passed by him. Out of nowhere….sort of like God speaking….he said, “Are you wearing pants today?” Scared to death by the question, I had to look down to check out my attire! The answer was, “No, I have on a skirt.” Considering the time frame, summer of 1970, that was a very fresh question, but the intent was so innocent. He was struggling with the draping of the trousers for one of the men in the mural, and he needed a model. Wouldn’t it be fun for Doug and me to both have a connection to the mural? His family’s home is the Ranney house that is tucked back behind the woman with the chickens.

  3. ….Jake, was a close friend of my parents and spent many hours around the table talking and sharing his humor. He had a wonderful wit. He would occasionally sketch while talking and my family retains many of these works.
    ….One I particularly remember was a penciled cartoon depicting a hapless man of Bethlehem on the eve of Christ’s birth, the holy star shining brightly into his bedroom. He was sitting on the edge of his cot, drooping eyes with a hand on his head complaining about not getting any sleep. As I remember the caption was;
    “Damn light shining thru the window, spooks flying all around and camel riders knocking on the door asking for directions, how is a poor soul supposed to get any sleep around here!….It was drawn on a table napkin!

  4. Jake Wells is a Missouri icon, much the same as Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham, and you can see their influence in Wells’ works. In time he will be truly recognized as an archetype, just as they are.

  5. I worked at Kent Library all thru college, 1970-1974. My job was to check out books and I worked behind the desk right across from that mural. I literally watched Mr Wells paint it. It was a long process and wonderful to see from beginning to end.

  6. My grandparents were friends of Jake. He was a very giving individual to those he knew, so today my grandmother has a large enough selection of his work to fill a small exhibit; all small gifts from him over the years. I’m also fortunate to have several of his excellent paintings in my home. An excellent individual by any measure.

  7. Jake Wells was my teacher and mentor for 1966-1970. I never tired of being in his presence and hearing his stories. I loved how he smelled of oils, chalk, pipe tobacco, and the “outside”. His humor and easy way made class time just fly by.

    Jake was such a humble and unpresuming man, it was only much later that I truly realized what a rare talent he was, and the excellence and vast extent of his life’s work.

  8. I have an original Jake Wells watercolor. It is a country scene with a old house and barn and a fence row and trees. I did not now that Jake was such a popular artist.

  9. My mother, Kathlyn Ann Gray Bidewell, and Jake Wells were lifelong childhood friends from Marble Hill. Loved the stories she would tell of their adventures together in Bollinger County. When he was painting the mural for Kent Library, he gave my mother several large signed sketches he used of models for his painting. They hung in my bedroom in Albuquerque until 2012 when I sold our family home there after my dad’s death. I sent them to his daughter, Jeannie Troy, who lives in Marble Hill and is very active with the museum and library there. She said her dad always destroyed his sketches when he finished a work so it was really exciting to have some from the mural project

  10. I’m Jake’s daughter and a very recent member of Cape Rewound. Reading through these comments today has been a welcome flash-back for me. My thanks to all of you who posted. I don’t spend much time in social media but Tim Ward and the posting of a link to the Will Mayfield College Legacy video influenced my decision to sign up. I’m enjoying all sorts of old haunts on this site today. Jake’s 2 older brothers and 1 of his sisters attended Will Mayfield as did his father. His great uncle, F.M. Wells, served on the original college board. The school closed before Jake was old enough to attend and I think that closing was part of the reason the Wells family moved from Marble Hill to Cape Girardeau. Jake was pleased when I became active in the Foundation that made preservation of the WMC buildings and history its mission. Next to drawing and painting was Jake’s interest in history so research for the Kent Library mural was a part of the project that he readily embraced. He loved teaching and loved his students. He was ready to retire when he did but he still missed the campus, the students and the Jim Parker and Peggy at the campus Museum when it was still in Memorial Hall. PS, I must have miscommunicated with Janeann Ward about the disposal of his sketches. It was his demo watercolors he did for classes that he usually pitched into the nearest waste can after completion. He never accumulated much “stuff” and got rid of some of the numerous sketches and studies he did for the Kent Library mural but he kept a number of sketchbooks with studies used in his paintings. Thank you all for this web site!

    1. Hi Jeanie! I was probably the one who got the story wrong lol! You will love this Facebook page—so much information and many great memories. You can see how well loved your dad was but I know you knew that anyway! Happy the WMC video is getting some new attention!

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