Harbin Clinic Gallery to Unveil “A Painted Life” Exhibit

It all starts with a thin, gray line of graphite from the tip of his pencil. That line transforms into a house. A bustling city street. A pool party. A traffic-jammed interstate. A young boy wrestling with a fish on his line. A snow day. 

The artist fills in the shapes with bold colors that pop and bring the scene alive. Each painting is a snapshot of a beautiful moment from the life of 85-year-old folk artist, Charles Wimpee.

The Harbin Clinic Gallery at Makervillage announces its third exhibit, “A Painted Life” featuring the works of folk artist Charles Wimpee. 

The gallery will be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon starting July 13th through August 24th. Additionally, on Saturday, July 20th from 10 a.m. to noon, the public is invited to come view Mr. Wimpee’s art during an event and have coffee and conversations with the artist.

At The Gardens of Rome senior living center, Mr. Wimpee’s days are filled with the happy colors of his past. He views his work with a sweet and honest simplicity.

“Most of everything I draw is just a memory,” says Mr. Wimpee with a chuckle. “I like painting and drawing because it’s a good pastime, and it makes me feel real good when someone likes it.”

An Unexpected Discovery

Mr. Wimpee has been living at The Gardens of Rome for six years. Renee Bowen, the business office manager of the center, recently saw Mr. Wimpee’s art stacked on a table in the common area with a note that said “Free. Take one.”

Bowen fell in love with his colorful imagery of country life and took a painting. 

“The next day I came in and there were more paintings on the table,” Bowen said. “I took another. Each day, the art continued to stack up. I began trying to find homes for Mr. Wimpee’s work.”

Bowen reached out to the Paradise Garden Foundation in Summerville when they were preparing for Finster Fest. After viewing the art, Operations Director Cameron Cook said Paradise Garden would be thrilled to have Mr. Wimpee’s art at the festival.

Russell Cook, an associate professor of art at Georgia Highlands College and board member of the Paradise Garden Foundation says Mr. Wimpee’s art falls into a class of Memory Painting. 

“He paints memories from the past, from his childhood and adulthood,” says Cook. “His work is very pure. He seems to do it for himself and not for commercial gain, and I think that is what really makes it stand out. He paints in a way that’s very colorful and illustrative in a nice, graphic style. It’s very playful and along the lines of the work of Grandma Moses.” 

Mr. Wimpee’s artwork and his love for his creative craft fit in perfectly with the mission of the Harbin Clinic Gallery.

“The Harbin Clinic Gallery highlights the connection between art and health,” says Harbin Clinic CEO Kenna Stock. “The fact that Mr. Wimpee is not only a recognized folk artist, but also continues to paint later in his life is a testament to the benefits of art and being creative. We are very pleased to host his work in our gallery.”

“I think it’s great that his work will be shown at the Harbin Clinic Gallery,” echoes Cook. “The benefit of painting, drawing, sculpting or any sort of creative activity all through life, and especially as you age, is that it keeps you young in a way. That’s a very valuable thing for health and the community overall.”

A Life Full of Memories

Mr. Wimpee was born and raised in Lindale, Georgia. A Korean War veteran, Mr. Wimpee met his wife after the war near Broad Street in Rome. They took a walk together and stopped into a photo shop to have their picture made. 

“I looked at that picture and said, ‘We look good together. Let’s get married,’” recalls Mr. Wimpee. “I wasn’t planning on asking her. It just popped out. But she said yes and we got married two days later.” 

The lucky couple were married for 61 years before Mrs. Wimpee passed away, and they had seven children. Mr. Wimpee worked as a semi truck driver for 30 years. 

“I drove everywhere all over the United States. I saw a lot of sights,” he says.

Those recollections of his touring the country, along with childhood memories and ones of raising his family, influence much of the content of his art. He also incorporates different animals and activities into each piece of work.

“When I start a painting, I may just draw a tree or draw a house or a car,” he explains. “Then things start popping into my mind. I like to draw horses and different kinds of animals. I can usually find a spot to put a dog and someone playing ball with the dog.”

A unique quality about his art is the amount of intricacy Mr. Wimpee puts into every scenario, says Bowen.

“I can look at his paintings repeatedly, then suddenly see something different. He’s very detailed,” says Bowen. 

As Mr. Wimpee dips the tip of his brush into a small puddle of bright red paint, he chuckles.

“It’s something I can do that other people get to enjoy,” says Mr. Wimpee. “They just get a thrill out of what I’ve done and that makes me feel real good.”