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A piece of the past uncovered during demolition of building
POULSBO — The old fragment of painting has stories to tell about 18932 Front St.
The painting was a backdrop in the bars and restaurants that occupied this address in the 1950s and ’60s. The artist undoubtedly hoped it would add to the experience of those who gathered here. Perhaps, he thought, they might enjoy his painting as they enjoyed dinner or an evening cocktail with friends, or celebrated a life event, or chatted about local goings on.
The fragment of painting — roughly 6 feet tall by 2 feet wide, unknowingly cut from its entirety during demolition of the building — tells a story: A story of an artist who traveled America, transforming walls of gathering places into scenes of the great outdoors.
The fragment of painting was fished out of a truck bound for the dump and has been stored by Dan Sluys in an old garage on 3rd Street. The painting had been part of a common wall shared by Voodiez and a neighboring building, hidden to the construction worker who used a Sawzall to cut through the wall as Voodiez was demolished to make way for Blue Bay Holdings’ new building.
Much of the old oil painting went with the rubble. All that was visible on the top of the heap was a narrow portion of the left section of the painting. On the back: a couple of the furring strips to which the wall board-turned-canvas was nailed, and the outline of the wall’s framing. On the painted side: Dust accumulated from decades of building life. White yellowed by cigarette smoke or age or both. A glimpse of a scene: trees, a shore — a lake, perhaps — and the artist’s signature.
Who was he? Some Internet sleuthing and the painter and his creation take life.
According to a bio on FindAGrave.com, his full name was Wesley DeWane Breckenridge. He was born on Nov. 3, 1929 in Burwick, N.D., and he and his family moved to Post Falls, Idaho som
etime in the 1940s. According to a relative, he was often called Billy.
Breckenridge’s younger brother, Ervin, an Army private, died in action in South Korea on Sept. 8, 1952. An older brother, Richard, also served in the Army in Korea, but the artist apparently took a different course in life. His obituary, published years later, described him simply as “an artist traveling throughout the United States painting nature scenes.”
It’s not known if he did other work. But he earned enough to afford rent or mortgage on a two-story home on the corner of 10th Avenue and William Street in a quiet section of Post Falls.
Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, Breckenridge visited Poulsbo. Two Poulsbo Historical Society photos inside George Wofford’s bar and restaurant, a long-ago predecessor of Voodiez, show a possibly wall-length scenic of a pheasant-hunting scene. It’s Breckenridge’s style, but it doesn’t appear to be the scene depicted in the fragment stor
ed in the 3rd Avenue garage. The trees-and-shore scene could be on the opposite wall.
By the late 1960s, Wofford’s had a new owner and a new name, and the painting was covered up by new wall board to accommodate an updated interior. Marion Sluys, owner of Sluys Bakery and a resident of Poulsbo since 1966, said he doesn’t recall seeing the painting when he visited his friend Pete Peterson in what was then Pete’s Tavern. Wally Oyen said the trees-and-shore scene wasn’t there when he tended bar at Pete’s in the late 1960s.
In 1969, Breckenridge turned up in the Tri-Cities. A classified ad in the Tri-City Herald on May 7, 1969, page 36, carried this message: "SPEED ARTIST — DeWane Breckenridge at Columbia Oil American Service Station, West Richland, Sat. May 10, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.”
1975 was a tough year for the artist. His brother, Richard, died Feb. 6. Their father, Charlie, a World War I veteran, died Aug. 16. The artist died two years later, on Jan. 26, in Kootenai Memorial Hospital. He was 48 years old; his obituary in the Coeur d'Alene Press does not give cause of death.
The funeral was Jan. 29 with burial in Restlawn Memorial Park. He was survived by his mother, six half-sisters, and several nephews and nieces.
Some odd information emerges about the artist and his family. His dad and brother Richard are buried at Riverview Cemetery; his brother Ervin, grandfather Archie, and grandmother Junnetta are buried at Forest Cemetery. The artist is buried at Coeur d'Alene Memorial Gardens in an unmarked grave, according to a relative who visited there in August 2000. The relative wrote on FindAGrave.com, “My dad is his cousin but everything I've learned isn't much. Apparently my grandmother didn't like some of my grandfather's family and so visits were scarce. I'm trying to find more information and I know it's out there, but …”
DeWane Breckenridge’s story could end there, in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Coeur d'Alene, but it doesn’t.
Thirty-four years after his death, on June 25, 2011, Hidden Treasures Auctions in Burlington auctioned a Breckenridge painting, titled “Boat on a Lake.”
On April 14, 2012, Goodwill Industries of the Columbia-Willamette in Hillsboro, Ore., offered for auction a signed Breckenridge painting of a lake and mountain scene.
In 2013, an owner of a Breckenridge painting wrote about it on an antiques appraisal website, seeking to determine its market value. “I have a painting that looks like oil on board, with some pastel colors. It is approximately 20.25 inches by 13.75 inches framed. It is signed ‘DeWane Breckenridge.’ ”
The antiques appraiser wrote that she was not familiar with him, that he was not “a listed artist,” meaning “his work must be judged on its own merits, since we have no comparables for him.” She wrote this critique: “Your painting shows a typical scenic view. The colors are vivid, but there's not much action in the picture. It appears to be a tourist item. If the painting and frame are in excellent condition, the current retail value is approximately $100.”
A tough critique, indeed, but such is the life of an artist.
Meanwhile, Dan Sluys wants to donate the fragment of painting to the Poulsbo Historical Museum. The museum has other items from the site — horseshoes and other tools of the trade from when Anton Nelson operated his blacksmith shop there. (Nelson built the building in 1918. He was an early City Council member and assistant fire chief). Now, a fragment of a painting by a traveling artist will live on, helping to tell the story about another period in the life of a building at 18932 Front St.
Above: DeWane Breckenridge signed the lower left corner of his painting — fortunately, the side of the painting that survived demolition of a building.
Top: A fragment of a painting that once was part of a wall in the old building at 18932 Front St.. It was painted in the 1950s but was covered up in the 1960s. This portion was found during demolition.