John Warr wasn’t born with a love of history. In fact, during his days at Scottsboro High School he literally hated the subject. Somewhere, along the way, that changed.
“I love the History Channel,” he laughs.
It is Civil War history that has helped Warr make a living. That, and his ability to paint and draw. His beginning in drawing goes back to his time in school. The 1977 Scottsboro graduate was too little for football and too short for basketball, he says.
“I was into wrestling and drawing,” Warr says. “I drew a lot of cartoons. I wanted to be a cartoonist.”
Warr never expected those days of getting in trouble while doodling in class would actually lead to something, much less make him one of the best known and highly acclaimed artists in the Southeast.
In 1981, he got married and graduated from Alabama Technical College in Gadsden with a degree in carpentry.
However, a bad economy changed his plans.
“I couldn’t find a job building houses,” Warr says. “If the economy had been booming, I would’ve been building houses and doing art on the side.”
Instead, art became his life. But with wife Tammy and three children, Warr had to provide now and not later. For years, he did what he had to do, including owning a lawn mowing business.
In 1989, history finally came to him. Warr was into wildlife painting. He won the Alabama Duck Stamp contest, where his entry featured a pair of canvasbacks sitting quietly on a point showing the front and profile of both ducks.
Warr asked a friend about wildlife photos for future drawings. Instead, the friend swayed Warr toward history, Civil War history.
With just a pen and ink, Warr drew one of his most cherished paintings: “White Tails Watching.”
It depicts Confederate soldiers on the march, while being observed from a distance by white tail deer that are grazing in the early morning fog. He took the painting to an art show.
“I had so many requests for it,” remembers Warr. “It was the first time I ever sold out of an edition. It really sparked my interest.”
Warr soon found himself reading books on the Civil War and attending Civil War re-enactments.
His paintings begin with a thought process.
“I think of a story,” Warr says. “Then I go look for things at re-enactments. Or have soldiers there pose while I take a picture. I take a lot of pictures. Sometimes, I make up a story from the picture I took.”
A lot of people, Warr says, know him from the “White Tails Watching” painting.
Some of the paintings take years to evolve. And then there’s been times when he could come up with five paintings in his mind in a single night.
Ten years ago, Warr took his art full time and also opened a frame shop next to his home. Inside the shop, there are paintings of much more than just the Civil War, like wildlife paintings, which are still a strong love of Warr’s, and portraits of people.
A new interest he has is western paintings.
“I go to a rodeo and take pictures,” he says. “I work from reference material such as pictures and reading. Reading really sparks ideas.” Such as, “man, that’d be cool to paint.”
Paintings might take a month to finish. or up to six months. At one time, Warr was doing at least 24 art shows a year all over the southeast.
Now he limits himself to one show a year, Art Sunday in Scottsboro. It was that show that gave him his start 30 years ago. He hasn’t missed a show since.
Today, he’s as busy as ever with his frame shop, painting and as art director for Global Outfitters in Huntsville, a hunting, fishing and shooting travel adventure site and wildlife gallery.
“I stay on the road interviewing outfitters,” Warr says. “Or I’m here painting or custom framing. I feel like the only break I get is when I eat or go to bed.”
There are no complaints or regrets, though. He’s doing not only what he loves, but what everyone loves that he does.
For instance, a painting of the B.B. Comer Bridge, where all proceeds go to the non-profit Friends Helping Friends organization that assists local citizens in the event of natural disaster or other tragedies.
He will continue his association with Friends Helping Friends when he produces a painting of the Walls of Jericho next year.