Mike Wimmer is not your typical Okie from Muskogee. The Oklahoma-born artist says that as a kid, he was always creative – and selling his own artwork at the young age of 11 would seem to be sound supporting evidence. He left Muskogee and headed for Norman, where he received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma. Eventually that led to a master’s degree from the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
In fact, it was during graduate school in Hartford that he met his equally talented wife Jime. They completed their studies in 2009, and after a long courtship were married three years ago. Between the two of them, they have four children, and today the couple makes their home in Edmond. Mike serves as the chairman of the School of Visual Arts at Oklahoma City University. Jime, meanwhile, has been an art teacher at Edmond Memorial High School for several years, and recently accepted a position as an associate professor in the Design/Illustration department at the University of Central Oklahoma.
“Even though we are at different universities, we try to help one another as partners in education,” Jime says. “We don’t see it as a competition; it’s always about the people we are teaching. We take that very seriously.”
And Mike agrees, saying when they are at home they talk non-stop about art and education. “We discuss the unique problems we encounter in a classroom, and the needs of foundational skill building in early stages,” he says. “And we share teaching philosophies and a mutual understanding of the importance of demonstration in the classroom – not just in artistic techniques and media handling, but also demonstrating and teaching aspects to be successful in life as a person.”
Mike and Jime are always working, and they love to draw. In fact, they often travel with multiple sketchbooks. But when it comes to two artists working in the same house, they tend to work separately.
“We are definitely on separate levels in the home studio,” Jime smiles. “We are both highly organized, and we tend to approach art very differently. Mike is very methodical and disciplined in his approach, while I am more inspirational and look for the ‘immediacy’ of the work. We are both seeking the same solutions, but we seek them very differently.”
The Wimmers’ work includes some very high-profile art many people will undoubtedly recognize: Mike has designed hundreds of book covers for publishers including Putnam, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins. He created national icons for Disney’s Simba on Pride Rock for The Lion King. And he has done packaging for Huggies diapers, the new Brawny paper towel man, and Proctor and Gamble’s Mr. Clean.
“What I am most proud of are the historic paintings and portraits hanging in the Oklahoma State Capitol,” he says. “I have over 40 paintings there, and the historic legacy I am leaving gives me such an incredible feeling of pride that my name will now be associated with Oklahoma greatness.”
Jime has had her share of prestigious showings. Last fall, an oil portrait she did of her son was exhibited at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
“I think that marks a pinnacle of pride in my work,” she says. “And my love for my work shifts from Copernicus (her most recent children’s book) to Prettylines collection to Doll Factory characters. And every five years or so I seem to be compelled to do Alice in Wonderland characters, and one of my favorites was a recent Mad Hatter I did in oil. I used a former student as the model, which I often do. They love that. After all, who wouldn’t want to be the Mad Hatter?”
Being art educators in Oklahoma has its share of challenges, according to the couple – Oklahoma’s recent budget problems have affected all areas of education, including the arts.
“It’s both crucial and critical to maintain the arts in public schools,” Mike avers. “We value education and athletics; we were both National Honor Society students growing up. I was all-state football and captain, and Jime was state track and field and captain. But where academics and athletics are valuable, it is the arts that became crucial as our lifeline. The arts defined our childhoods and shaped our lives.”
Jime says, “The arts are the one thing that identifies us as human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is through the arts that we will connect to our next generation and those to follow, and it is with the arts that we give lives meaning and purpose. All the great civilizations embraced the arts as a center of education. And education should not be evaluated as a corporate business. It should be treated as humanely as possible. It is our humanity.”
Mike and Jime have created their own website, and besides Mike’s collection at the state Capitol, their online presence – wimmerstudios.com – is the best place to view their work.
The couple said while art is their passion, they have some other interesting hobbies that keep them busy when they’re not in the studio.
“I can bench-press twice my weight and leg-press five times my weight,” Mike says. “And I like to roller-skate,” Jime adds. “I know – we are geeks at heart, and they are really big hearts.”