Checking In With Earl Newman

This story is a follow-up to the one from a few years ago. Any excuse to hang out with Earl, I’ll take it .

Earl Newman is the quintessential west coast immigrant. Like many in the early 60’s, Earl thought there was more to life than the corporate nine-to-five. They thought it could be found in the counter-culture lifestyle developing in California. In the summer of 1960 Earl set sail from Boston in an old station wagon, and landed in the “foreign country” of Venice, California. Having been deemed a Master of Fine Arts by Harvard University, in just one year, and with a young family, Earl did everything society told him not to do at the time. No white shirt, no tie, no job, no mortgage. Freedom. Earl had a go at a “regular job” teaching art for a brief period, he says: “it gave me a rash.”

As it turns out, the committe at Harvard who bestowed the honor upon Earl, was right. Earl settled in to the Venice scene, making sketches and making his way into the new world. Earl and family took over what was at one time a bar in Venice, and turned into his first art studio/home in California. He made a sketch, someone came by and bought it, so he made another, he says. It became a trend. What has made it all work for him, so says Earl, is that his art has never been considered serious fine art (he’s wrong by the way), and he discovered silk-screening could be done efficiently and allow him to offer his work at very reasonable prices. When I asked in 2013 why he only prices his work at ten dollars at the Oregon Country Fair, given his current noteriety, his answer: “because everyone has ten bucks.” Earl’s collection of posters he’s done for the Monterey Jazz Festival are in the Smithsonian. Several years ago, Earl had a show at the Corvallis Arts Center focused on the Jazz Festival posters he produced—for fifty years.

During the Vietnam war, Earl said a number of people he knew had suggested he accompany them to Canada “we’ve had enough” they said, Earl declined. He related a story about a house he’d sold to a friend in Topanga Canyon (Southern CA)… “…it was kind of a weird place, it was kind of off the main road into Topanga, the houses weren’t a big deal, I sold it to him for $5,000. He never moved in and kind of disappeared, so I went to check on the house, Charles Manson had moved in, so I kind of let it go.” Earl explained all of this with a little smile, but in a semi-serious tone. If art hadn’t worked out, stand up comedy could definitely have been on the table, he’s very funny, and it seems to come to him effortlessly. Perhaps old Charles was what inspired Earl’s move north? He’d heard about Napa, CA, so he went to take a look. Too expensive. He had a friend in Bellfountain, OR a few miles south of Corvallis who told him: “there are a lot of artists living in Summit” (a few miles west of Philomath), that’s where he lives today. Earl and his wife Jean raised their children in Oregon. Earl said when they first walked the property in Summit, Jean said “this is it.” Earl said “it is?” So that was it.

Earl’s (Jean’s) decision to live in Summit was a lucky break for Oregon. Over the years, Earl has done original art for the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, The Oregon Coast Aquarium, and he’s shown his work at the Oregon Country Fair forever; recently being honored as the oldest vendor – he seems unsure if that’s really something he wants to recognize. He was chosen as the 2019 artist for the Corvallis Fall Festival Poster, and he’s currently working on a commission for the anniversary of Squirrels Tavern in Corvallis. Prolific is an understatement when talking Earl Newman.

Talking Earl Newman… you know the saying “art imitates life?” Well not true for Earl, for him it seems, art IS life. Hanging out in his house in Summit, everywhere you look there are artworks, or everyday objects transformed into artworks, or just cool, creative touches, everywhere! Looking at his fence, and the different colored paint stir-sticks he’s affixed as embellishment, a chicken walks by with her tail feathers mimicking Earl’s fence. So maybe for Earl, art imitates chicken? Sitting talking to Earl is an absolute joy, you’d think now that he’s pushing the century mark, he’d be kind of cranky, or a little less aware of what’s happening — you’d be totally wrong. Having only met Earl is his 80’s, I don’t know what he was like in his 30’s, but I suspect just like he is today. He’s sharp as a tack, his sense of humor is to be envied, and his, I don’t know, his “aura” maybe, to use a vintage California term, is just pure light, and life, and color. If you have a chance to meet Earl, take it.

Check out Earl’s Website Here

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