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Living Legend:
Tacoma "Old West" Artist,
Fred Oldfield

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- by Pamela LaSalle

Fred Oldfield
Fred Oldfield at home in the western landscspe - photo by Molly Morrow

In 1918 the First World War in Europe was slowing coming to an end, and the influenza pandemic was in full force. Amidst these harsh obstacles a young boy by the name of Fred Oldfield was born in the small town of Alfalfa, Washington. Born to a family of ten he lived his young days in a covered wagon traveling throughout the Northwest finding whatever work he could. He remembers the distinct details of learning how to build a fire with sagebrush and cow chips and he developed a knack at fixing wagons.

His youth did indeed prepare him for the harsh realities of pioneer life. The twenties brought significant technological advances and Fred enjoyed a lifestyle of change and opportunity. He fit the bill of a cowboy with his unmistakable western clothes including snakeskin boots, blue jeans and cowboy hat. Although he didn't attend school often, he had a broad range of experience. His early adventures included boxing, gold mining, farming, and hunting.

Fred Oldfield

In the forties, Fred ventured to Alaska and when his hope of finding work was diminished he found himself living in an attic of a brothel. He passed the time painting local scenery and when the Madame of the House offered to help sell his paintings he agreed and managed to survive on a meager income.

When news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor reached him in Alaska, he returned to Washington to enlist and serve his country but the US Government had other ideas for Fred and sent him back up to the Aleutian Islands. After the war he attended the Burnely School of Art in Seattle with help from Uncle Sam's GI bill. He worked at odd jobs to supplement his income while he enjoyed painting large murals for restaurants and on the sides of buildings.

Memories of his youth inspired him to paint Western themes and cowboy art. His uncanny accuracy helped him win the Quick Draw Competition in the National Western Art Show in Ellensburg, Washington on several occasions. Today Oldfield paintings are collected by many and can be found worldwide. His larger paintings sell for up to $10,000. He is acknowledged as one of the premier painters of the American West in the United States. For thirty years Fred acted as host for the Celebration of Western Art Show ~ the largest western art show in the Northwest.

Fred Oldfield

In 2002, the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center opened at the Puyallup Fairgrounds showcasing his paintings and collection of old west artifacts. Cowboy Fred, as he is affectionately called enjoyed visiting the Center and sharing his stories with those folks who enjoy hearing the many tales of his life. The center is run now by his daughter, Joella who directs the non-profit and manages the classes and summer camps that focus on fine art, as well as Native American music and dance.

Fred swears his longevity has much to do with his feisty attitude and his positive view of life. He believes having something to look forward to and waking up with a plan has kept him going all these years. Fred will be 92 in March 2010. He presently lives in Tacoma, Washington with his son and daughter nearby. He is now the oldest living Cowboy painter in the Northwest still painting. Fred paints everyday and will be auctioning off his work at the National Art Show and Auction in Ellensburg in May 2010. For more information about Fred Oldfield's work, please see his web site at: