Jan 222015

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:

Charles L. Wrenn: Lake Chapala

Charles L. Wrenn. c 1943. Lake Chapala.

This watercolor, entitled “Water Carrier, Lake Chapala” is currently (Nov 2015) for sale on Ebay.com:

Charles L. Wrenn: Water Carrier, Lake Chapala

Charles L. Wrenn: Water Carrier, Lake Chapala. Date unknown (EBay)

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.”

Cover art by Charles L. Wrenn

Cover art by Charles L. Wrenn

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”.

Cover by Charles L. Wrenn

Cover art by Charles L. Wrenn

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.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

  14 Responses to “Charles Lewis Wrenn (1880-1952), portraitist and illustrator”

  1. I have a bronze sculpture of a cowboy taking down a long horn steer that was given to my grandfather. The inscription on it reads, ” cowboy stories / range land stories / ace high magazine range romances “. Charles L Wrenn. It is approx. 15″ x 10” You did not mention that he was a sculptor.

    • Thanks for that valuable clarification and additional information. I did not know that and wonder how many other sculptures he made. Hope you continue to enjoy reading the series of bios of artists associated with the Lake Chapala area.

    • This sculpture was done in the late 1920’s, and was produced by the Clayton pulp chain as Christmas gifts to various of their authors and staff. I have a few copies of this that I’ve acquired through the years of collecting pulp ephemera, and they’re very cool indeed! I suspect that other pulp publishers may have done similar Christmas gifts, but I’ve not found any.

  2. I have three watercolors by Charles L. Wrenn painted in Mexico. He was acquainted with my parents who lived in Wilson Point, CT. I was a very young child at the time but the family lore had it that he painted in the barn on my parents’ property and used it as his studio. Evidently he traded his paintings for the studio space. I have more to the story which I don’t want to go into here. I would be very interested in any information which anyone could share with me about this artist and the worth of his paintings today.

    • Thanks, Laurie, for your informative comment. I’ve not yet managed to pinpoint the time frame when Wrenn visited Mexico (and Lake Chapala) but still hope to find more evidence eventually!

    • Years old, I know, but I just saw your comment. My husband’s family also lived on Wilson Point and were good friends of Charles Wren. We have several of his paintings. Would love to chat offline

  3. I have a painting in my home by Charles Wrenn. I’m not sure it was painted in Lake Chapala, but the scene is of a tropical lifestyle. The painting came from my grandfather’s house. My grandfather was Wyatt Blassingame, a pulp fiction writer, and Charles Wrenn illustrated the covers of some of the magazines my grandfather wrote for. I am guessing they knew each other. Do you know of someone who could tell me more about the painting? I can send pictures.

    • Apologies for not noticing your comment earlier; somehow it escaped my attention! Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve heard of your grandfather’s connection to Wrenn and have always assumed they were likely to be or have become quite good friends. I’d love to see photos of the painting if that’s still possible? Please send them as attachments to infoATsombrerobooks.com. If I can tell you any more about the painting, I will gladly do so. Thanks again for reaching out, TB.

    • Natanya, Just found this thread, as I was searching Wrenn. I have a few copies of that one sculpture by him, as well as some paintings. I’m amazed to hear that your grandfather was Wyatt Blassingame! I’m a big pulp fan (I co-run the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention) and he’s well remembered by pulp fans. If you can post an image of the painting, I may be able to identify it for you. I’d also be interested in info on Blassingame, as I’m always looking for info on the old pulp authors. My email is pulpvaultATmsnDOTcom. Best, Doug Ellis

  4. Interesting reading some of the comments here. I, too, inherited a Charles Wrenn watercolor painting (Mexico scene with some sort of ruin and person carrying water) and the Ace High magazine sculpture, though I’m not sure how my grandparents came by these pieces. Would love to get an idea of what these pieces are worth.

    • Thanks for getting in touch. It’s great to know that Wrenn’s work is still appreciated and passing down the generations. As to value, sorry, but I am completely unqualified to offer any opinion. Works by Wrenn do (occasionally) come up for auction, so you may wish to try contacting a reputable local art dealer for advice.

    • I co-run the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention and have a large collection of pulp art (I collect it as well as occasionally deal in it). I co-wrote a book on pulp art a few years ago, The Art of the Pulps. If you’d like to send images, I can let you know if I can ID any of the paintings and give you a sense of their worth.

  5. He did a watercolor and 3 ink illustrations for the book – The Girl Aviators’ Motor Butterfly by Margaret Burnham, published by Hurst & Co. in 1912. There were 4 or more, books in that series, perhaps he did them all. I just happened to buy that one today.

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