Foundation receives grant to preserve and showcase brewery artwork

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Olympia Tumwater Foundation archivist Erin Whitesel-Jones, left, and curator Karen Johnson unwrap a piece of Olympia Brewing Company advertising artwork. The Thurston County Board of County Commissioners awarded seven 2017 heritage grants totaling $29,600. Among the recipients is the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which plans to use its $5,000 to catalog and re-house 292 pieces of Olympia Brewing Company advertising artwork dating from the 1930s to 1980s. Lui Kit Wong Staff photographer

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Grant will help preserve historic Olympia Beer advertising artwork

BY LISA PEMBERTON – January 21, 2017      lpemberton@theolympian.com

Nearly 300 pieces of artwork used to design billboards and advertising campaigns for the Olympia Brewing Co., will be preserved, thanks to a $5,000 Thurston County Historic Commission grant.

The paintings, photographs and advertising concepts were created to promote Olympia Beer from the 1930s to the 1980s, according to Karen Johnson, a curator with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which manages the collection.

“These are just typical ads for all kinds of advertising campaigns that the brewery had,” she said.

Most of the pieces have been covered in brown paper for decades and have been stored in the temperature-controlled archives room in the basement of the Schmidt House, the historic Tumwater home built for brewery owner Leopold Schmidt and his wife, Johanna. The house now is managed by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.

“We haven’t opened up all of the packages,” Johnson said. “But it’s like Christmas every time we open something up.”

The foundation was one of seven organizations that received 2017 Preservation Grants from Thurston County. The funds come from setting aside $1 from each $5 historic document recording fee that is collected by the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.

The grant program is managed by the Thurston County Historic Commission. It received 10 applications and ranked the requests. The Board of County Commissioners authorized funding for seven of the applications last month.

The Olympia Tumwater Foundation received a Historic Commission grant last year to process and preserve about 6,000 of its collection of 10,000 photographs from the Schmidt family and the brewery.

“It went really well,” Johnson said. “… The logical progression was to preserve the next most fragile thing, which was the artwork.”

The advertising artwork will be placed in acid-free boxes and cataloged. In October or November, the foundation plans to host an art show and feature 20 or 30 of the pieces, Johnson said.

“The whole focus is to share what we have, not keep it locked up,” she said. “… This is our county’s history in here.”

Olympia Tumwater Foundation director John Freedman said he believes the artwork will be a popular draw because the brewery was the county’s largest employer for many years.

“The brewery put Tumwater on the map,” he said.

Freedman said brewery workers saw their job as more of a way of life than an occupation. Olympia Beer items are highly collectable, and the artwork from the historic advertisements will probably tap into nostalgia, he said.

“The Schmidt family was very good to their employees; they had great benefits, great pay for the area,” Freedman said. “There’s a tremendous longing for that life again. It’s a bygone era.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

50 Images From the Archives

As part of of a 2016 grant received from the Thurston County Heritage Grant Program, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation has published a 50 image sample of the Olympia Brewing Company and the founding Schmidt Family. More images will be available after a website update in early 2017. Please see link below.

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Click here to see photos===>     50 Sample Archive Images