Osral Allred would make you rethink watercolor. Spend any time with his work and you were quickly convinced that watercolor was not simply the realm of broad washes and cheery, bright colors; nor that it was only for painting pretty flowers. For over forty years his dappled surfaces, and rich, earthy colors reveled in the the complicated planes and gritty textures of tractors and trains, giving the medium a serious dose of testosterone.
Allred passed away quietly in his home on January 21st this year, and the warmth of his personality and strength of his brush will be missed by the community.
Born in 1936 in Spring City, Utah, Allred started small. At 2 pounds 3 ounces, he was known as a ‘miracle baby’ and was kept in a shoe box in a warm oven in his first weeks. Except for a few brief interludes — for his schooling at Utah State University and two LDS missions to Norway — he spent his entire life in Spring City, serving as a talented and congenial bridge between the locals he knew from birth (as an Allred you couldn’t be more local, since the family had settled the town in the 1850s) and the urban-bred artists who have been settling there in increasing numbers over the past several decades.
Allred studied with Everett Clark Thorpe and Gaell Lindstrom at Utah State University before returning to Spring City to take up a teaching position at Snow College. Though his preferred medium was watercolor, he also taught drawing, pottery, and jewelry, and he was influential in establishing the art program at the college. Because of his 35 years teaching there, and the numerous workshops he has taught throughout the state over four decades, Allred has influenced generations of artists. Salt Lake artist Sandi Olson calls him her first “art guru.” “Even today, I adhere to his basic beliefs of where art comes from — within.” Roland Lee in St. George has said, “Os is one of the first watercolorists who influenced me and I still think he is one of the best painters in the medium. His sense of design and use of white space are key elements in his work, which often features old tractors and train cars.”
I was struck by some of the same elements in Allred’s work when I wrote about him for 15 Bytes in 2005. Commenting on a watercolor of a speedboat of his that I saw at Patrick Moore Gallery, I wrote: “With washes and dots of color, Allred had created a very still, very dark negative space that wrapped itself around the fairly simple forms of the back end of two motorboats. I like Allred best when he paints old farm machinery or an abandoned locomotive. The textures and colors he achieves makes one think he is painting with rust itself. He seems often to work from the center, detailing the prop on a speedboat or some other feature, and then fading into non-referential washes or negative white spaces towards the edges of his pieces. The effect is compelling and has an oriental feel to it. Allred has no problem letting the color spread out on the paper, filling a space without detail or description. He alternates this method with areas of detail and texture.”
Though he is best known for these dark and rich depictions of machinery, Allred’s work over the years has demonstrated a deep quiver of techniques and moods and a firm command of his tools. When Sherry Meidell took a workshop from Allred in 2011, she commented that,
“Part of what I learned from Osral was learned by watching him paint. There is a thought process and then a confident laying down of the color with the brush. It’s a process that can’t be rushed. Even when he wiped out an unwanted area, he did it with confidence.”
Tom Howard, current president of the Utah Watercolor Society, recently wrote on their site, ” I remember meeting [Allred] for the first time when I visited his studio in Spring City a few years ago. I had heard of his name, saw some of his impressive work and had a picture in my mind of a larger than life man. I discovered that he was a good genuine individual who loved the place in which he lived, loved his family, and cherished the talent he developed and honed over all the years of his life.”
Indeed, with his passing Allred will be remembered as much for being a good neighbor as for being a talented artist. With his wife Linda he raised six children in the town, four of whom remain there (including Paul and Scott Allred, both artists). As Bishop for the LDS Spring City Ward for over seven years, he was instrumental in the renovation and addition to the town’s historic wardhouse. He served in two LDS Stake Presidencies; directed local artists in painting backdrops for the Manti pageant; and served at the Manti LDS Temple for 9 years.
To the arts community he will be remembered for his engaging work. Besides numerous one-man shows, he exhibited in the National Academy of Design in New York, Watercolor U.S.A. in Springfield, Missouri, and many colleges and universities, and throughout Utah. Many of his paintings are represented in public and private collections. He was a member of the prestigious Watercolor Honor Society and the National Watercolor Society.
Allred continued painting and teaching late into life, winning prizes and holding workshops as recently as 2013. His final exhibit was held at the Gallery at the Station at Union Station in Ogden this past summer — a fitting locale considering the proximity of the train cars and engines he loved to paint.
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.