Charles Wimpee has discovered a passion and talent for folk art thanks to the encouragement of staff at his assisted living community, The Gardens of Rome.
Wimpee and his folk art will be featured at Finster Fest, a folk art festival, this weekend at Paradise Garden.
“It makes me feel really good that people want to see my art,” Wimpee said. “It’s a thrill.”
His folk-style art pieces depict a scene and share a story, he said. From laundry soap fights in a country backyard to playful scenes at McHenry Primary School, these moments come from his upbringing in Rome.
“It’s things like when I was growing up,” Wimpee said. “I drove a truck for 30-something years, so I saw a lot of things on the road then, too.”
A retired truck driver and the son strict Baptist minister, Wimpee joined the Army and was involved in the Korean War. He enjoys sharing stories of traveling on the USS Missouri and surviving a typhoon on the way to Korea, working as a sergeant of arms and keeping a check on his fellow soldiers and manning an outlook hill to watch for enemy troops as a staff sergeant in Korea.
When Wimpee returned home to Rome, he found a fellow Navy soldier and they decided to go to a bar where they saw two pretty girls, Wimpee recalls. One of those girls denied Wimpee’s offer to buy her a beer, and he was smitten. He introduced himself and returned the following night to the same bar to see her again. They took a walk along Broad Street in downtown, and stopped in a photo shop to have their picture made.
“I told her we looked good together,” Wimpee recalled.
After knowing each other for just two days, Wimpee suggested they get married and they tied the knot just three days later. Ellen Inez and Wimpee were married for 61 years and had seven children.
Those memories stuck with him and he now portrays them in his art.
“His paintings tell stories, and it reminds me of when I grew up,” said Renee Bowen, The Gardens of Rome business office manager. “I fell in love with his colors, his art is so happy and so detailed. You can look at the same piece over and over and find something new every time.”
Wimpee’s artwork caught Bowen’s eye when she first joined The Gardens of Rome on Chulio Road, as he would leave pieces for people to take for free on a table at the entrance to the community. The staff there each had several of his paintings, so the stack began to pile up.
“I didn’t want him to think people didn’t like or want his art,” Bowen said. “I knew we had to find a way to get it to more people.”
With the blessing of his family, Bowen contacted Finster Fest. Despite technically being full for their artist spots, the event organizers enjoyed Wimpee’s art and his personal story so much they made sure to give him a space at the festival.
Greeting cards featuring his art will be available for purchase at the event, Bowen said, and all the funds will go directly to Wimpee and his family. Orders for prints will be taken as well.
This weekend’s event is the first of many to feature Wimpee’s unique art, Bowen said, as a local gallery exhibit is in the works for July and another exhibit to be held at The Gardens of Rome is in the works.
Finster Fest, the annual festival honoring the life and legacy of folk artist Howard Finster, will be held at Paradise Garden, 100 N. Lewis St. in Summerville, on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.