LUMBERTON — This year will mark the 14th year that Matt Thompson has painted the signature watercolor artwork for the Rumba on the Lumber, which ends its three-day run today.
And it will be the last.
Since 2005, the 61-year-old podiatrist’s art has been featured on shirts, fliers and websites for the three-day festival hosted by the Robeson Road Runners. His paintings also have been used on the runner’s bib worn during the race.
“They have become a collectible among the runners,” said Jef Lambdin, Rumba on the Lumber coordinator.
Thompson is stepping back from the festival to spend more time with his family.
“I’m planning on retiring,” Thompson said. “We have a grandson in Colorado, and we spend much more time out there.”
The longtime Lumberton resident has been a podiatrist for 36 years.
He has always liked to draw, but he didn’t get into painting until 2004, the year before he began a 14-year Rumba tradition.
“I’ve always been interested in painting, but I never really had the time to do it,” he said.
After his children grew up he had more time to focus on the art and took a watercolor class in Raleigh. He took to that type of painting because of the loose impressionistic style and the rainbow of colors.
“I just love the colors,” he said.
He chose his subject based on his love of running.
“I run and I paint so you try to do things that you’re interested in,” he said.
One of his first paintings was of the old firehouse in downtown Lumberton. The painting was well received and raised money to help preserve the station. He then did one of downtown Lumberton and suggested its use for the Rumba’s awards.
“After that year, I was stuck doing them for every year,” he said with a laugh.
Although most of his paintings feature historic Lumberton or runners, he tries to switch it up each year, Thompson said.
“People, I think, get tired of the same picture, so I try to do something different,” Thompson said.
Thompson usually starts looking for a topic to paint right after a Rumba ends. After the races, he starts looking at photos taken to get inspiration for next year’s artwork.
Most of his paintings are chosen from photos. Thompson said his wife will sometimes take multiple photos of him running so it will look like multiple runners on a scene. This is shown in his 2010 Rumba on the Lumber painting of runners on Elm Street.
Instead of going all out for his final piece, Thompson decided to walk it back.
“This year I did something simple. Just a runner,” he said.
He said he came across a black-and-white photo he liked.
“It was like one color of black. It wasn’t like multiple shades of it,” he said. “I said, ‘I can paint that.’”
He painted the runner artistically and chose a variety of natural shades in the background. Although the painting is simple, the work isn’t.
“Painting runners is kind of tricky because your arm has to be in the right position,” he said. “If your arm is off, it looks really stupid.”
Thompson said his painting is sporadic. Sometimes he paints frequently, and some years the Rumba on the Lumber painting is all he’ll do.
That is likely to change..
“Do I enjoy doing this? Absolutely,” he said. “I plan on doing a lot more of this in my retirement.”
The paintings also are given as prizes to the Rumba’s first-, second- and third-place finishers.
“The cool thing about this is that there’s probably more people who have these pictures somewhere in their house than people who have trophies sitting around,” he said.
As a race director for the Rumba on the Lumber, Thompson will be involved. But he won’t be participating in the races this year because of an injury.
“Matt has been a terrific volunteer for the Robeson Road Runners and he’s a terrific artist,” Jef Lambdin said. “We are going to be sad.”
The Robeson Road Runners and the Robeson County Arts Council will hold a competition this summer to find the artist and artwork for the 2019 Rumba on the Lumber.