Somewhere in California, a self-portrait of Charles Wells will hang.
His artwork, some of it created while he lived in a homeless shelter in the District and would draw until the lights were turned off, also will be displayed in Ohio, Alaska and possibly Sweden.
In the days since a Washington Post article about living on minimum wage featured Wells’s story, describing how some days he has enough money to get to his job at Reagan National Airport but not enough to get home, dozens of people have reached out to help the 63-year-old.
Some people have offered to send him Metro cards so he won’t have to sleep another night at the airport, where he works pushing wheelchairs. Others promised to send him art supplies. One woman, who was struck by the fact that Wells doesn’t wear socks because doing so intensifies the pain in his feet, asked if she could donate money toward a doctor’s visit and a pair of comfortable shoes.
“I realize that he is only one of many, but I can’t bear the thought of him being on his feet all the time and being in pain,” she wrote in an email to The Post, asking how to contact his family.
For others, his story made them look at their own lives.
“It’s a reminder for so many of us how blessed we are that we have enough,” wrote one person who wanted to contribute to Wells’s Metro card monthly.
Many people, in an effort to help, turned to a website called the Jackson Family Art Show that features work by Wells and several of his relatives. Since Monday, when the article was published, more than $1,000 worth of Wells’s drawings and paintings have been sold on the site, said his sister, Diane Williams, who also works as his curator.
“When I heard about the first piece being sold, I thought, okay, that might be it,” Wells said Tuesday. “Then when my sister called me today, I was overwhelmed.”
Wells has worked seven years at the airport, earning $11,000 to $12,000 a year. In that time, he spent three years in a homeless shelter and one year sleeping most nights at the airport before finding a room in the District he could afford to rent for about $500 a month.
When he was homeless, Wells said, a friend always told him he should put his artwork out there for people to see. Now, he said, the realization that his art will be spread across the country “feels great.”
“I appreciate the kindness people have shown me,” he said. “I appreciate their patronage as far as the art is concerned and for even caring about me as a human being.”
Williams said her brother is “a very proud person” and would never ask for help.
But the outpouring, she said, couldn’t have come at a better time: His landlord was reported for unlawfully renting rooms, and Wells has six weeks to find a new place.
“This will help greatly,” Williams said.
Her brother doesn’t use computers and so she described for him the emails that had been sent. “He said he’s in a dream right now, and it’s a good dream. He just can’t believe the concern and outreach that people have displayed to him.”
Among the artwork that has sold, two pieces were hanging in a restaurant and one at an elementary school. The most expensive piece cost $300 and is entitled “Break of Dawn.”