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Artist Janet Wimmer has dubbed herself Parkway Painter and Blue Ridge Daily Painter on her blog — and she intends to make that stick.
Wimmer, who will have her artwork on display at Chestnut Creek School of the Arts beginning Sept. 9 and running through October, has set out to paint one picture of the Blue Ridge Parkway each day, Monday through Friday, for a year — and she has almost met that goal.
So far, Wimmer, of Roanoke, has done 243, and plans to have 260 complete in September — just in time for the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Wimmer, who had taught art and other subjects in Roanoke schools for 30 years, said the concept came when she was teaching painting classes to a group of women at her home— located less than a mile from the parkway — last year.
As her students were talking about painting the scenic beauty around them, Wimmer decided to take advantage of the nearby parkway and had the idea to paint a series of 25 to 30 pieces to commemorate the anniversary.
“Little did I know I would do 260,” said Wimmer. “It didn't dawn on me that it would come down to this.”
Shortly after that conversation with her students, while searching online, she came across British artist Julian Merrow-Smith, who set out to paint a small postcard-size piece every day. These paintings were selling for thousands.
“The daily discipline of paintings seemed like a good goal,” Wimmer said. “Even though I had taught painting for years, I hadn't painted as much as I should, so I thought that I should try to paint something new each day.”
Wimmer had planned to do a full year, beginning in January, of parkway paintings.
“But I had to build my endurance,” she said. “So I did eight paintings the first week, but by September, I was already so excited about fall, I figured 'I have to start now.'”
In September 2009, Wimmer committed to weekdays and began blogging about and posting her paintings online.
She contacted the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a non-profit organization that focuses on preserving the destination, and told organizers of her new venture. Wimmer decided to donate a percentage to the organization for every painting of the parkway sold.
“I love to do something that allows me to give back to the parkway, because I love the parkway,” said Wimmer. “We sometimes take for granted the beauty that we have right here, and before I think I was in that category of people who didn't appreciate it as much.”
Wimmer's appreciation has grown so much that she could paint images of the parkway every day for the rest of her life and never get tired of it, she said.
She tours the parkway, takes plenty of pictures and then captures the scene on canvas in a studio at her home. Wimmer has paintings of people on the parkway — some strumming their instruments, some bird watching and even a couple kissing over an overlook—just because she loves to capture interaction. There are paintings of horses, turkeys, deer, cascading waters, blossoming flowers and trees in the winter, fall, spring and summer.
But her focus is sunlight and shadow peaking through the treetops. “You name it, I've painted it. I've done paintings of rainy days and snowy days, but my love is the sunlight.
“You can go back to the same spot the next day, and it's not the same,” said Wimmer. “The lighting is different, the seasons are different, the scene is different. It's just breathtaking, restful, peaceful, therapeutic and helps me live a joyful life. Painting nature is my passion.”
With no prints made, Wimmer has sold nearly half of her 12- by 16-inch pieces — most of them under $100. People who have special memories of the parkway seem to find Wimmer online, and sometimes purchase up to four pieces at a time.
“I was new to the idea, and I needed a business strategy that would allow me to sell my paintings when the economy isn't fabulous,” she said. “I'm happy to sell them at low prices because it opens doors for people who can't afford original art. This allows anyone to afford it.”
Once Wimmer completes her year, she will continue with a fall series of the parkway, since all of those paintings sold out last year. But, she plans to slow down in the winter and start working on larger pieces of the parkway. She hopes she will have time to focus on the quality of her paintings.
“For a long time, I felt that the quality of the paintings were progressing, but it wasn't until number 200 that I felt that I had a real breakthrough,” Wimmer said of her favorite painting, which depicts a creek at the bottom of cascading waterfalls.
Wimmer, 60, moved to Botetourt County from Richmond 30 years ago when her husband Richard Wimmer, a native of the area, decided to return home. At the time, Wimmer wasn't too thrilled about the idea, but now “I'm so glad he brought me here. I love it. There's no other place I would rather be,” she said.
Wimmer and her husband have two daughters. She retired as an educator to take care of her 3-year-old and newborn granddaughters and spends about two to three hours working on each piece, painting early in the morning before the children arrive, during their nap time and in the evenings.
• For more information or to see her paintings, visit janetwimmer.blogspot.com or call (540) 977-1681. She is also on Facebook.