Q&A with Lee Wettstein

April 3, 2013 

Q&A with Lee Wettstein

City of Residence: Bonaire

Occupation: Volunteer watercolor instructor, retired Air Force and Houston County businessman

QUESTION: When did you start teaching watercolor at the Senior Activity Center?

ANSWER: About three years ago. Ellen Swafford started the class maybe five or six years ago. She worked for me back in the 1970s, and I got her interested in art back then. She loved getting together with the group to paint and socialize. She asked me to help, and I did. Then I took it over.

QUESTION: It’s sponsored by the Warner Robins Recreation Department, right?

ANSWER: Yes, and we meet at the senior center on Maple Street each Thursday at 1:30. It’s $10 a session. I also teach a free class at Hobby Lobby on Thursday evenings and used to teach in Byron.

QUESTION: How long have you been painting?

ANSWER: I started drawing when I was about 6. When I was a freshman in high school I won first place in a contest, and my art teacher set me up with an interview with a university art professor. He said I had potential and asked what I wanted to do. I told him I liked Rembrandt, but he said that was passé. He was into abstract art. I sort of let it go after that until years later. I’m still not fond of abstract.

QUESTION: What got you going again?

ANSWER: I was in business and running 16 hours a day, and my wife, Sandy, set me up with a three-day class. I had drawn but never painted before. That was in 1980. The watercolor I did won first place at an art association show.

QUESTION: Who can be in the class?

ANSWER: It’s 50 and above. We had a lady in here in her 90s and have several in their 80s now. I’ll be 80 this year myself. We have a good time, and there’s always a lot of conversation about art and watercolor and just about everything else. We have people in here now that couldn’t draw a straight line six month ago but are doing well now, and we have people that have been painting for 30 years or more.

QUESTION: How do you teach?

ANSWER: I prepare a lesson for each session. It takes me a couple of hours. I create a drawing then three different stages of the watercolor through the finished piece, light to dark, less detail to detail. I take about 15 minutes in class to paint it all over again for the group so they can see and then they do it. I walk around and we talk about what they’re doing. I’m encouraging, not critical. I do critique their work and point things out in order to help. I try to do something each week to keep them interested.

QUESTION: Was it the Air Force that brought you to Warner Robins?

ANSWER: Yes. I retired after 20 years and stayed here. When I saw retirement coming, I decided I needed to prepare for something and went to real estate school and appraisal school. I went to schools in Tampa, Texas and Chicago. When I got out, I started Town and Country Realty, and we went from no business to being top business.

QUESTION: To what do you credit your success in real estate and as a businessman?

ANSWER: I ran it like a family, and I wanted good people. I even hired my old commander from the base. Some people wanted in just for the money, but there were a lot I didn’t hire because you can’t just be in it for the money. In real estate, you’ve got to want to help people. I retired from the Air Force in 1973 and sold the business to one of my employees in the mid-1980s. I’ve kept busy through the years.

Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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