Emerging Artists | Don Oelze

Painting a lifelong passion

Don Oelze, River Find, oil, 46 x 34.

Don Oelze, River Find, oil, 46 x 34.

This story was featured in the December 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  December 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

As a boy growing up in New Zealand, artist Don Oelze was fascinated by the American West and Native American culture and history. He loved watching a Daniel Boone program that aired on TV every afternoon in Auckland, and he loved to draw, filling his sketchbooks with illustrations of Indians and other subjects. For Oelze, whose parents were born in the United States, “America was the place I always wanted to return to, and the American frontier was the best symbol of the country in my mind,” he says.

Today, Oelze lives with his wife in Montana, where he studies the people and land that inspire his historical Native American paintings. The artist, who painted his first serious Native American painting in 1992, spends “considerable time” researching his subjects, delving into history books and even talking with the authors. “I always say that I paint for the 10 percent of people who really know the history of [Indian] tribes and will appreciate my efforts to make sure my work is as accurate as possible,” says Oelze. But telling a compelling story is important, too, he adds. “When choosing a subject to paint, if it’s something I find very interesting, I feel there’s a good chance others will, as well.”

As it turns out, Oelze’s instincts have been spot-on. This year the artist won the Art of the West Award of Excellence at the Phippen Museum’s annual Western Art Show & Sale, and in August, he exhibited work in Legacy Gallery’s group show Visions of the West. As a new artist to the gallery, it was “a huge honor” to be invited to participate, says Oelze. “It was like being told you may just belong among these talented folks.”

Oelze names C.M. Russell and Frederic Remington as early artistic heroes. For a time, he painted old barns and rural scenery, inspired by the works of Andrew Wyeth. But Oelze says it was the paintings of John Clymer that turned his focus back to historical western works.

Oelze schedules two major photography shoots each year to gather reference photos, and he mostly works in his studio. “The walls are covered with Native American accouterments,” he says. “I get inspired every morning I walk in there.  —Kim Agricola

representation
Southwest Gallery, Dallas, TX; Sunti World Art Gallery, Whitefish, MT; Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Legacy Gallery, Jackson, WY.

This story was featured in the December 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  December 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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