Artist, portraitist and illustrator Charles Lewis Wrenn was born 18 Sep 1880 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and died 28 Oct 1952 in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut.
He definitely painted several watercolors at Lake Chapala, including at least one in 1943, though the precise dates of his visit or visits to the area are currently unknown. This watercolor of fishermen tending their nets is typical of his work and almost identical to another watercolor dated 1943, presumably painted at the same time:
This watercolor, entitled “Water Carrier, Lake Chapala” is currently (Nov 2015) for sale on Ebay.com:
Wrenn moved to New York City around 1900 and lived in Manhattan. After graduating from Princeton in the class of 1903, he immersed himself in art, studying at The Art Students League, and with the impressionist painter William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). In 1914, Wrenn wrote that, “My ten years since graduation have been devoted to ART. After a year at the Art Students’ League and The New York Art School, I took up the illustrating branch and have been following it ever since.”
On 5 October 1907 he married Helen Gibbs Bourne of New Jersey, and they moved to 364 West 23rd Street; his art studio was at 9 East 10th Street. The couple later moved to Wilson Point, Norwalk, where Charles (“Charlie”) had his studio in the loft of his red barn.
From 1911 to 1917 he drew illustrations for stories in The Red Book Magazine, People’s Home Journal, and The Housewife. He also painted cover illustrations for the pulp magazine Breezy Stories.
Wrenn illustrated numerous books, including: Molly Brown’s Sophomore Days by Nell Speed (1912); The Boy Scouts at the Panama Canal (1913) and Boy Scouts under Sealed Orders (1916), both by Howard Payson; Uncle Noah’s Christmas Inspiration (1914) by Leona Dalrymple; Guns of Europe (1915), Tree of Appomattox (1916), Hosts of the Air (1915), The Great Sioux Trail (1918), The Sun of Quebec: A Story of a Great Crisis (1919), all by Joseph A. Altsheler; Polly’s Senior Year at Boarding School (1917) by Dorothy Whitehill; Boy Scouts Afloat (1917) by Walter Walden; and For the Freedom of the Seas (1918) by Ralph Henry Barbour.
In 1918, at age thirty-eight, he was not accepted for military service in WWI, so he applied for a passport and went to France for one year as a citizen volunteer for the Red Cross, working as a stretcher bearer. His passport describes him as 5′ 10½”, blue eyes, grey hair, thin face, with a Roman nose and a scar on his right thumb. He listed his occupation as “artist”.
After the Great War ended in 1919 he traveled to study art in Morocco, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Tunis, Egypt, and Great Britain. He returned to the U.S. in September of 1920. He returned to Europe in 1922, this time accompanied by his wife and his mother. They returned from Palermo, Italy aboard the “Providence”.
In 1929, he visited Haiti and in 1931 Bermuda.
From 1920 to 1936 he sold freelance pulp magazine covers to The Danger Trail, People’s Magazine, Ranch Romances, Three Star Magazine, and War Stories. He also drew interior story illustrations for Clues.
In 1936 he moved to Wilson Point, South Norwalk, in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he painted portraits and landscapes for the remainder of his life. He and his wife visited Europe in 1952, returning only four months before his death.
Wrenn was a member of The Society of Illustrators and specialized in painting portraits and landscapes. He painted in many parts of the U.S. including the Catskill Mountains, California, and Walpi Mesa in Arizona.
This post was updated on 12 November 2015.
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Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).