He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, a middle child of ten. His father was a truck driver at the shipyards. His mother took care of the home and family. While he wasn’t raised in the church, his parents knew what was right and wrong, and they worked hard to keep all their children out of trouble. Their high moral standards directed them all to be good citizens.
As a child Sylvester liked to draw. Although no one in his family was artistic, he spent his time drawing, beginning at the age of six. God gave him the gift, he explains, and it was his job to cultivate it. On his own, he developed skills in portraiture and sign painting.
After finishing high school in Jacksonville, he joined the army and was stationed in France. Once his service was completed, he returned home to Cocoa, Florida, and his wife Consuelo.
One day when he was 25, he was walking on the main street in Cocoa trying to figure out what he could do to make a living. He saw Alfred Hair hauling a stack of landscape paintings into a bank to sell. He admired the artwork and struck up a conversation with the artist. Sylvester asked Alfred if painting was the only thing he did for a living. Alfred replied affirmatively and added, “That’s why I’m driving a pink Cadillac.” (The car was parked on the street.) As Sylvester studied the paintings, the Lord told him he could do what Alfred was doing. So Sylvester understood that painting landscapes would be his job. He knew he could paint portraits; he had been doing that for a long time. He also knew he could make signs. Now he would learn to paint landscapes. As he was good at copying, he tried to memorize Alfred’s paintings.
He went home and told his wife Consuelo, “I’m going to paint for a living.” She looked at him strangely. This revelation didn’t make sense to her, but she trusted her husband and wanted to support him.
Sylvester set out a canvas and tried to paint one of Alfred’s moonlight scenes. It was harder to imitate than he had thought. His first try at a landscape turned out looking like a three year old had done it. He almost cried in defeat.
He knew he needed to find someone to teach him. He had heard that there was an artist named Harold Newton painting landscapes in Cocoa. So he “put out the word” that he wanted to talk to him. Harold heard that Sylvester was looking for him and he was curious to find out what this preacher wanted with him. They finally met and Harold told him he could watch him paint.
Sylvester watched Harold work during the day. At night he went home and practice what he’d seen. And then he began watching Sam Newton paint. After awhile he spent more time with Sam than Harold. “I just stood and watched,” he explained. He purchased the same materials Harold and Sam used and continued to experiment. “I practiced and practiced and practiced,” he said. “Soon, I could paint anything Sam could paint and people started buying.”
His best critics were his customers. They would offer helpful suggestions, which Sylvester took to heart. They made him a better painter. He also learned from his good friend Robert Lewis, another painter who lived in Cocoa.
Like the other Highwaymen, he took his paintings on the road, selling up and down the highways on the east coast of Florida. He painted and sold his works on the roadways for forty years. Even today, he says he has 100 paintings ready to sell.
But painting isn’t the most important part of his life; preaching the gospel is his primary mission. He didn’t study in a Bible school until he was 72. He mostly learned by listening and reading the Bible. Although he doesn’t have a church, he is a Seventh Day Adventist. But, he explains, it doesn’t really matter what religion you are; what’s most important is how you live your life. He notes how dangerous and distressed the world is right now. Everything that has happened, he says, has been forecast in the books of Daniel and Revelation. “We are in the last Kingdom,” Sylvester warns. “Christ will set the world right.”
Consuelo died after twenty years of marriage. He and his second wife, Clezell, were married for fifteen years. She passed away a few years ago. Both wives helped him with art shows and exhibitions and were good partners. There were no children from either marriage.
Sylvester moved to Tennessee after living in Atlanta for a year and a half because the Bible instructed him to do so. He’s now living with a sister in Alabama. Wells no longer paints, as he is blind from glaucoma. He prays every day that God will heal his blindness so that he can paint once again. He asks that others pray for him as well.
Sylvester Wells never saw Alfred Hair again after that first meeting at the bank in Cocoa. And, he says, he’s never been to Fort Pierce.