Lifestyle

An Original

Fred Oldfield talks like he paints: colorful, sharp, Western. The 83-year-old does both in his studio at the back of his home in Federal Way.

“This is the junky place I work,” Oldfield said of the room packed with brushes, half-finished paintings, frames, six-shooters in holsters and a wall of cowboy hats.

It’s as if the objects he painted came to life in his studio. Or maybe the other way around.

Dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat, Oldfield himself could have walked out of one of his scenes.

“A good painting is simple,” he said.

The walls of his home in Belmor Park are lined with paintings of scenes of cowboys and horses.

“The paintings don’t look worth a whoop in here,” he said. “Lighting is everything.”

Oldfield isn’t a painter who likes to paint Western scenes. He’s a cowboy who paints what he lived: scenes spawned from the memory of his youth in Eastern Washington.

“I was born and raised with it,” Oldfield said of growing up in Toppenish. “I rode (horses) all my life. I enjoyed it. It’s beautiful country — no fences, wide- open spaces.”

It’s a lifestyle he condensed to fit on his canvas, which has since made him famous in art circles.

This summer, Oldfield will be the namesake of The Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center, set to open in June at the Western Washington Fair Grounds in Puyallup. The center will house a permanent collection of his paintings and serve as an interactive learning center.

“I’m pretty well honored,” Oldfield said.

He will teach painting and technique classes and seminars at the center, “If it don’t interrupt the fly fishing.”

The center will cater to students of all ages and economic situations, offering scholarships based on merit, not academic achievement.

“I’ll be teaching kids who don’t have a chance to learn art in school,” Oldfield said. “There’s a lot of kids out there who don’t want to go to school — I didn’t. I never had a chance to get any art education until after the war.”

The G.I. Bill after World War II offered Oldfield the chance to study art in college in Seattle.

It was an opportunity that Oldfield doesn’t forget. He often auctions his paintings to raise money for scholarships for students.

After college, in the 1950s, Oldfield began by painting murals in “just about every nightclub in Seattle.”

Most have been renamed or torn down.

“I’ve got stacks of crap that’s been written about me, I’d have to go back and check to remember all of the places.”

He’s been painting for about 50 years and said he doesn’t have any idea how many paintings he’s done.

“I’m amazed yet that people will buy them,” he said.

His paintings can be found scattered in museums around the Northwest.

Two of his paintings hang in a museum in Cologne, Germany. His work has been displayed in the U.S. Embassy in England.

Among those who own Oldfield’s paintings include former vice president Spiro Agnew and infomercial proprietor Ron Popeil, whom Oldfield considers a friend. The two met in Pomona, Calif., in 1987.

“Ron stood there and kept telling me, ‘I don’t like that painting,’ ” Oldfield said. “He said, ‘I don’t like that painting — but I’ll take the rest of them.’ Then he started pulling out thousand dollar bills.

“He still sends me all his gadgets.” Popeil’s book “The Salesman of the Century” sits on Oldfield’s dining room table.

“I had to start two or three times,” Oldfield said of his business life.

Oldfield opened a frontier village near Mount Rainier, a “tourist trap” with stage coach rides. He was so busy he didn’t get a chance to paint, and the place went broke.

“After that I started painting and selling to tourists on sidewalks,” Oldfield said. “They bought them and I never turned back.

“You can’t quit painting. You can lose yourself in a painting and pretty quick you’re oblivious to everything else — there’s a rock over here, a stream over there. Someone comes in and says boo, you jump. Painting, to me, I’ll never quit as long as I can do it.”

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