The first time I encountered Fred Oldfield was years and years ago at the Tacoma Art Museum. Not personally, unfortunately. “Just” one of his artworks, and I was so impressed that the painting got stuck in my memories. Little did I know that, years later, I would get to know his daughter Joella Oldfield, as we were both invited to be on the panel of a show by iconic radio and TV host Dorothy Wilhelm (who also was a friend of Fred Oldfield’s). Small world, right?
Well, I should find “my” Oldfield painting in Joella’s book about her father again. Which made it only more enticing to tell YOU about Joella Oldfield’s colorful coffee table book and biography of her father, “Better than I deserve” (310 pages, full color, hardcover; $ 90.–; order at cowboyfredoldfield.com). And who could tell better about Fred Oldfield than his daughter, who founded and organized countless art shows for the legendary western art painter, who traveled with him and held down his booths when needed, and who created the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center (fredoldfieldcenter.org/) in Puyallup, WA?!
Fred Oldfield (1918-2017) was a more than colorful artist who grew up during the Great Depression, traveling to and living wherever his family would find work in whichever field. While even boxing for prize money, he already knew that his real calling was art. Western Art, to be precise. He started small enough, with the mural of a thistle in a bunkhouse. During WW II, he painted an altar piece for a field chaplain, numerous caricatures, sketches, and – much in demand – on bomber jackets. So, if you find one of the latter in your attic, the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center would be grateful if you donated it to their collection, as this is the last puzzle piece missing to a complete illustration of Fred Oldfield’s life story.
After the war, Fred’s wife, Alice, supported him in his endeavor to make art his livelihood. He commercially started painting murals, some of which are still in existence to this day, e. g. at “Hattie’s Hats” in Ballard or at the “Horseshoe Café” in Bellingham. Best-known are probably his historical murals in Toppenish, WA, though.
The Frontier Village right outside the Nisqually entrance to the Mt. Rainier National Park was another venture of Fred Oldfield’s, who by this time also painted small souvenir canvasses for tourists. His concrete statues and daily stagecoach robbery shows in his theme park were to help finance his real ambition: to paint real art on canvas.
Meanwhile, his star was climbing. He was requested for painting in store windows. His art became more and more in demand. Some began calling him “the Charlie Russell of the Pacific Northwest”. The cowboy artist (indeed, he WAS a cowboy, too!), became a founding member of the Rainier League of Arts, exhibited at the Tacoma Mall, at the Western Art Shows in the Pacific Northwest at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which were organized by Joella, and at the Tacoma Art Museum. He was even requested to submit paintings to the Cowboy Hall of Fame but turned the offer down, as his wife was ailing and she was more important to him than a more glamorous appearance as a painter. Meanwhile, he gave away countless paintings to support charities. Ultimately, TV channels got a hold of him and created diverse shows with him.
Joella Oldfield caught all these facets in her carefully researched and beautifully assembled biography. It contains photos, diary entrees, caricatures, sketches, and full-color prints galore, which adds Fred Oldfield’s authentic voice. His style, combining late Romanticism and Impressionism with an undeniable tone of his own, the themes of landscape and struggling man reflect “the way it was, the way it is, [and] the way it felt”. What more suitable location could Joella Oldfield have chosen for her book launching on June 12, from noon to 1600 h than the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center in Puyallup?! Don’t miss out on celebrating one of the United States’ greatest western artists, the State of Washington’s own Fred Oldfield!