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Butterflies glide from floor to ceiling in an exhibition reflecting Black American migration

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

More than 4,000 black butterflies are strewn across the lobby of the Dubuque Museum of Art.

They represent the pathways and journey of the Great Migration, one of the largest movements of people in U.S. history.

BLACK THREAD, the latest installation by Des Moines artist Jill Wells, acknowledges the sewing of the fabric of America done by countless African Americans throughout history. It also raises questions about freedom, transformation, labor and economy. Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with Wells about the visual and tactile installation.

The, she turns to forensic genealogist and historian Ricki King. Originally from Burlington and living in Windsor Heights, King specializes in forensic genealogy cases identifying unknown or missing heirs, probate cases and family history research. King and Wells' paths crossed after King was hired as part of the City of Dubuque's ongoing Black Heritage Survey project, and upon researching Wells' ancestry, they learned that their families' lives were interwoven.

BLACK THREAD is opening on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Jan. 15, with an artist conversation between Wells and King, and a celebration open to the public. The exhibition will be open through February 12th, and you can listen to an audio guide here.


  • Ricki King, forensic genealogist and historian
  • Jill Wells, artist, activist, and mentor

Dubuque Museum of Art is a financial supporter of IPR.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Samantha McIntosh is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio. Prior to IPR, Samantha worked as a reporter for radio stations in southeast and west central Iowa under M&H Broadcasting, and before that she was a weekend music host for GO 96.3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.