Painting the past for future generations.
From the sides of vans and 18-wheelers, to the sides of grain bins and churches, to campaign signs and even the lettering on the famous sign that once hung on the side of Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, folks in the Delta have probably seen the work of artist Charles Herring.
While he does a lot of work for a lot of people, Herring says his real passion is paining people and scenes of the Delta.
“My motto is ‘painting the past for future generations,’” said Herring.
Herring lives in Drew and worked at Parchman Penitentiary for “29.75 years,” he said proudly. All the while, he painted everything he could, perfecting his technique and growing as an artist.
“I never had an art class in my life,” said Herring. “I’ve been drawing and painting since I was seven years old, and, fortunately, I had teachers who recognized my talent and encouraged me.”
Herring says his teachers entered his work in contests, and he always won.
“They eventually had me help other children with their art work, which later led me to working with the Delta Arts Alliance.”
Through that organization, Herring works with children all over the Delta, teaching them art and encouraging them to explore their inner talents.
“I never had children of my own, and I love working with children,” said Herring. “They really respect me and appreciate the time I spend helping them develop their abilities.”
A loner by nature, Herring said he has always enjoyed being by himself.
“I loved my job at the penitentiary, where I transported 65 inmates to job sites all over Sunflower County,” said Herring. “I met some of the most gifted people there. I saw their artwork and began talking to them, asking them about how they did their shading and such. That really enhanced my own work.”
Herring said he rises at 5:30 a.m. and spends each day painting. Sometimes he can complete five or six paintings in a day.
His favorite painter is Norman Rockwell.
“I am a big fan of his work,” said Herring. “His characters are really something. Their expressions and movements are just wonderful. And I love his color palette. I study his work, and I pattern my characters after his.”
Herring has painted all of the famous Delta blues singers, including five pencil sketches of B.B. King the day he passed away.
“Not many people have seen those,” said Herring who works primarily in acrylic, his favorite medium because it dries quickly, and watercolor. I have tried painting with oils because they give the best colors, really earth-like colors, but I have never developed a technique for getting the paint to dry faster.”
Herring’s work has been shown at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola and is now part of the art collections of people as far away as New York and New Jersey.
“I had a show at Delta State, too, and that was such a big honor for me,” he said.
Most of Herring’s work is sold at festivals around the Delta, and he has recently purchased a trailer to have a rolling art gallery. He makes his own frames, mostly out of cypress.
“I like to work with wood,” said Herring. “I went to a vo-tech school, and I’ve learned skills such as offset printing, shoe repair and carpentry work, so that’s helped me with my art.”
Painting is a passion for Herring, and he credits his teachers and others who have encouraged him over the years.
By susan marquez
The Bolivar Bullet