“It’s the Art!”—Free Art Show at the Schmidt House in Tumwater

Celebrate the art of beer! From November 4 through December 9, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation presents an art show featuring over 50 original advertising artworks produced for the Olympia Brewing Company during the 1930s through 1950s.

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This ad was painted in 1939 by Rudy Bundas, a commercial artist and a nationally-known fine artist as well. His work for the Olympia brewery included billboard art, greeting cards, packaging art, and cover art for the “It’s the Water News” employee newsletter.

The paintings, averaging about 18” x 34”, were intended to be translated into billboards and had to be bold, simple, and eye-catching. The original paintings offer a unique glimpse into the art and advertising processes of the day. Completed long before computer technology, the works in the show were largely painted by hand. Most of the pieces were produced by artists hired by the Seattle advertising agency of Botsford, Constantine & Gardner, which handled the Olympia Brewery account for decades.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, a billboard painter used each small painting as a guide, and hand-painted a large-scale version onto a billboard—some as big as 10’ by 42’. Later, when printing processes improved, the original paintings were enlarged and printed onto heavy paper—installing billboards then became a much simpler matter of pasting sections of paper, much like wallpaper, onto the wooden billboard backing. Up to 24 or 30 sheets of paper constituted a billboard.

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This ad was painted by Richard Wiley in 1956. Wiley was a successful commercial artist, but was also well-known as the illustrator of the Sally, Dick and Jane books so familiar to schoolchildren.

After installation of the billboards, the original paintings were meant to be discarded. Luckily, Olympia brewery personnel saved the originals, wrapping them in brown kraft paper and tucking them away. These paintings were hidden away for decades. They were only recently rediscovered, and are in the archives of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. This year, the Foundation received a Thurston County heritage grant to remove the artworks from the paper wrappings, and store them in acid-free archival boxes. During this process, the paintings were photographed and cataloged. Over 300 advertising artworks were preserved in this way.

For the “It’s the Art!” show, over 50 paintings were selected by Art Chantry, nationally recognized poster artist, art historian and graphic designer from Tacoma. The art illustrates the social norms during the Depression and World War II years: housewives bring husbands a beer at the end of the workday; soldiers await letters from home; golfers, sailors, hunters, and skiers enjoy a cold Oly.

Interpretive text is displayed alongside each painting, and biographies of the artists are included when individual artists could be identified. Some artists were adept at painting bubbles in a glass of beer, while others excelled at painting faces or landscapes. During the war years, when most of the experienced artists served in the military, less skilled artists painted graphically unsophisticated ads focusing on victory gardens, war bonds, and other contributions to the war effort.

The show is being held at the historic Schmidt House in Tumwater (330 Schmidt Place SW), and is co-sponsored by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation and O Bee Credit Union. O Bee has produced their 2018 calendar featuring twelve high-resolution reproductions selected from the exhibit. Everyone who attends the art show will receive a free calendar, while supplies last.

Show hours are from 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday-Friday-Saturday only, November 4 through December 9 (closed Thanksgiving Day). Special appointments for groups of at least ten people can be arranged by contacting curator Karen Johnson at 360-890-2299 or karen@olytumfoundation.org.

Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

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