November December 2005
 

 

 

Capturing it on Canvas

Logger and painter — Eldon “Ole”Olin has been wielding a brush since 1937

By Kurt Glaeseman

He’s spent decades capturing the Pacific Northwest logger’s life on canvas. His work can be found in libraries, in lumberyard offices, in upscale galleries and over the workbench in the mechanic’s shop. He’s even painted originals for December Timber- West covers (which were auctioned at the Oregon Logging Conference).

Olin has been able to capture the physical and intangible feel of logging, with all its mechanical aberrations, its specialized tools, its dust and mud and exhaustion and pride and pathos and humor—of loggers working optimistically against what many would consider overwhelming odds.

Born in Chinook, Washington, in 1921, Olin lived and worked in the logging industry, and his business cards today still show his profession as Timber Cruiser/Artist. A member of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, Olin got his “artistic start” painting Forest Service trail signs on cedar boards and then graduated to copies of a hunting dog from the cover of a Field & Stream magazine. At age 16 he sold his first oil painting: a picture of a wagon crossing the plains, inspired by something he had seen in The Oregonian. But the call of the woods prevailed, and Olin started working for various timber cruisers, often doing the mapping at night. Those were hard times; a man had to eat; and a job was a job. Olin liked the intricacy of charts and maps and surveying tools, and as a bonus he got to see some of the most beautiful timberland in the Pacific Northwest.

During World War II Olin was stationed with the army in France, where he relaxed by drawing the guys around him. Soon officers brought him snapshots of their wives and requested portraits. He remembers once being paid with a fifth of Scotch and once negotiating for sleeping quarters in the back room of a pub by promising to paint the innkeeper’s daughter. A surviving painting, reworked from a snapshot in 1944, shows his wife Bunny with a radiant smile and hair aglow. Today Bunny and he are still in close partnership—as husband and wife and as business partners in the Olin & Olin enterprise.

Olin & Olin display booth at 2005 Oregon Logging Conference in Eugene, Oregon. Wife, Bunny Olin (to right in blue sweater) and Daughter, Bonnie-Jo (left in red).

After the war Olin got his pilot’s license and started working with aerial photography, often cruising timber from the air. In the 1960s he returned to painting and drawing, mostly from memory, like his picture of the man hiding behind a snag in a windstorm. “Everything I painted I either did or participated in or witnessed,” he says. It was a major breakthrough for Olin when Finlay Hays started printing his ink sketches in Loggers World.

Once he had his own studio, Olin began doing commission work for lumber companies and private individuals. His work took on greater finesse. After studying an old photo of his father for hours with a magnifying glass, Olin produced “The Proud Ones.” It’s his dad on the right, a talented axe man and saw filer…who played the pipe organ and directed the choir at the local Lutheran church. The picture is a work of detail: the pitch seam, the oilcan, the suspenders, the absence of chips on the clothing. When he did “The Foot Log,” he used a series of photos, worked them into a grid, and then added the color. Not afraid to try modern technology, Olin is experimenting with the Giclee process, where pictures from a digital camera are put on a computer and then photographed onto canvas. "“The advantage," explains Olin, “is that the ink should last 75 years with no need for a glass covering.”

Artistic Inspiration: Olin gets the measure and feel of a newer pair of Whites boots, perhaps the focal point of a new piece.

The work of “Ole” Olin is comprehensible, accessible and affordable. Matted and framed or simply tacked to a bulletin board, works like his “Monday Morning,” “Trying to Fill Dad’s Boots,” “Old Growth,” “Picnic Every Day,” “High Climber,” “Log Bucker,” “Woodsman & His Dog,” “Gyppo Logger,” and “Compassman & Cruiser” have become household words in the logging community. Olin has captured forever a series of historic and artistic vignettes that help define and focus the last century’s logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.

For more information you can contact Olin & Olin by email at eldonr@eldonolin.com or by phone at his home near Springfield, Oregon, at (541) 726-8069.

 

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, May 23, 2006