Born and raised in Southbridge, Massachusetts, Cady Wells was twenty years old before deciding to become an artist. He was sent by his family at the age of twenty-two to Mesa, Arizona to the Evans School Ranch for Boys, which, described as the western equivalent of Philips Andover, was designed to give eastern young men a college preparatory education in a western ranch lifestyle environment. From there, he studied and traveled widely, pursuing interest in music and the visual arts.
In 1932 Wells traveled to New Mexico and immediately fell under the influence of Andrew Dasburg, who became his mentor for the next several years. Portraying the southwestern landscape in watercolor, Wells moved through various modernist idioms. His early work incorporated gestural, calligraphic lines suggestive of Chinese ideograms. Later he investigated the structure of natural forms, the pattern-like appearance of the landscape. Influenced by Dasburg, Raymond Jonson, and Georgia O'Keeffe, Wells developed a personal semi-abstract style that brought considerable praise from his peers.