Photos Jason Huynh
“When I was a kid, a friend of mine lived on the next street over from me. One day, I was riding my bicycle and stopped to talk to him. For some reason, he drew a picture of Mickey Mouse on my bicycle seat. I got looking at it, and after that, I kept drawing that picture of Mickey Mouse everywhere. In school, I would sit there and draw pictures and then my teachers would get a hold of it and want to brag on it. They definitely got me more interested in drawing,” says Charles Wimpee as he recounts the beginnings of his passion for drawing. He is currently residing at Affinity Living Group’s the Gardens of Rome in Rome, Georgia and wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the Gardens, Wimpee has the opportunity to spend his days drawing and painting for himself, but the other residents definitely reap the benefits of his artistic genes. “While here, I took art on as sort of a past time,” explains Wimpee. “I would paint three or four paintings and lay them on the front table and put up a little sign that said, ‘free to take one.’ It wouldn’t be two days and they would all be gone.”
Renee Bowen, who works with Affinity Living Group, realized that Wimpee had a true talent and has worked to promote his work by taking him to Finster Fest at Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden in 2018. More recently, she has been instrumental in helping him set up his own gallery at the Harbin Gallery in Maker’s Village this past July. This has opened up a whole new world for Wimpee. With two of his daughters, Dianne and Brenda, by his side, he breaks down where the inspiration for his paintings come from and how, at 85-years-young, he rekindled his creative side.
Wimpee has a very distinct style. His paintings are always busy, full of life and interesting characters. They are often colorful, and it seems that every time you inspect a painting, you find something that you didn’t notice before. He certainly has a niche, though. “I always draw pictures of the outdoors,” he explains. “My favorite things to draw are lakes, rivers and people fishing. I used to fish all of the time with my son-in-law. I like horses, I like to draw them like they are running.” One of his daughters, Dianne, points out that her father places a dog in every one of his paintings, one way or another. It’s the little details like these that make Wimpee’s paintings extraordinary
Initially, Wimpee’s only goal was to paint for himself, but soon after, he started receiving feedback from those that he shared his art with, and his perspective changed. “I’m glad I can do something like this for someone who likes it. The more I see that people like my art, the more I want to do it,” smiles Wimpee. He simply wants to spread joy and share his experiences through his paintings, and with 86 years behind him, Wimpee has a great deal of inspiration.
By far, one of the most prominent themes in Wimpee’s paintings is forms of transportation. From trains inspired by his childhood, to a traffic jam in downtown Atlanta. Most Georgia natives have experienced the travesty that is Atlanta traffic, but Wimpee lived it for 35 years as a truck driver. His cross-country journeys have led to some of the most visually interesting paintings in his collection. The vehicles in his paintings range from classic cars to tractor trailers much like his own.
“I was born at number four Railroad Street and they called it that because the engines would come in and switch cars every night,” explains Wimpee. His early years were spent in Lindale, Georgia, just outside of Rome. But if you ask him, Wimpee is a Rome native. “We moved to Rome and I worked in the cotton mill for a year until I turned 17. The next day after my 17th birthday, I went and joined the army,” says Wimpee. “I stayed in the army for almost four years, fighting in the Korean war. When I came back from Korea, I had made it up to Staff Sergeant and they put me in a training outfit, and I liked that pretty good. Still, it wasn’t anything like home.” And Rome has indeed been his favorite place. His happiest times have been here, and he can’t imagine a better home.
Wimpee loves telling the story of when he finally returned from Korea. “When I finally made it back from Korea, I went uptown and met with a sailor friend of mine who was home on leave. We went into a little bar and my wife was sitting there, but she wasn’t my wife yet,” Wimpee smiles. “She was sitting there with a girlfriend and they were just passing time. I told the waitress to take a beer to that girl over there. The waitress came back and said that that girl over there didn’t drink beer. I decided that I needed to meet this young lady.
“I invited her to go to downtown to get a picture made,” he continues. “We went and got our picture made. That was the third day. I was looking at the picture and said, ‘Well, me and you look pretty good together.’ I had never thought anything about marriage, but I looked at that picture and all of the sudden, it just popped out… ‘Hey do you want to get married?’ She said, ‘That will be alright with me.’ And on the fifth day, we got married.”
Wimpee lived with Ellen for 61 years, raising seven children: two sons and five daughters. “She was a wonderful person. We had a good life together. I guess I’ve had a pretty good life,” says Wimpee. Wimpee and Ellen lived in Rome during most of their lives, but they did try and change scenery a few times before finally deciding that Rome was the only place for them.
Wimpee never expected his life to take this turn, especially at this stage. “After Ellen passed away, I moved to the Gardens,” says Wimpee. “These people are really good to me and I still enjoy life. There have been some things that have really amazed me; things I wasn‘t expecting.” But his story proves that life never stops being interesting and dreams can be realized at any age.