David Partridge’s 60 years (and counting) as an artist started with a fourth grade art assignment and a bar of soap. Or rather, the lack of a bar of soap.
“We were told to carve a buffalo out of soap, but my family did not have the money for a bar of Ivory Soap,” the Walla Walla oil painter recalls of his childhood in rural Idaho.
“The teacher, Mrs. Hill, wanted to know what I was going to do for a grade. I told her I was going to do a painting of a buffalo.”
“Amazed” upon seeing the completed watercolor, Mrs. Hill framed and hung the work in the school trophy case for a year. Partridge, encouraged and emboldened by the experience, began incorporating art studies and artwork in all his grade school and high school classes. As an adult in the early 1960s, he took advantage of two six-month tours for the Navy in Naples, Italy, to learn oil painting techniques from local artists.
And then later, during a 33-year career as a journeyman millwright with Boise Cascade, he honed his art skills, both two- and three-dimensional, at every opportunity.
“The meaning of the word ‘millwright‘ comes from making the mill right, so my job was to keep Boise Cascade running properly and to fix anything that was broken,” Partridge explains. The welding skills he developed to both fix broken things and create new ones — such as catwalks and handrails — now translate into metal art sculptures, many of which incorporate horseshoes in their design.
Colleagues and management at the mill, when they noticed Partridge’s ability to draw, increasingly approached him with art-based projects and jobs.
“Boise Cascade commissioned me to do as many paintings as I could do in thirty days for the new human resource building,” Partridge remembers. They also commissioned him to paint a mural depicting how paper is made, create coloring books for children on safety issues at the mill, and develop the image for Gus the Goose, the mascot for the Wallula Paper Mill. Engineers at the plant asked him to make drawings of projects so they would have an idea of what the job would look like when it was done.
Outside the mill, Partridge painted western landscape and wildlife scenes, which he showed and sold throughout the Northwest. In the 1990s, he joined a group of artists who worked with the late Idaho artist Robert Thomas to paint the murals on Main Street in Dayton. Upon retirement from Boise Cascade, Partridge plunged full time into art, varying what he does with the seasons: in the winter, he paints, carves wood, and tools leather; in the warm months he welds, sculpts, and builds covered wagons reflecting the 19th century. His latest summer project is a doctor’s buggy fashioned from white oak. The wheels, made out of hickory, took two years to complete.
“I like to change what I do so I don’t get tired of the same medium,” Partridge says.
Hundreds of Paintings
Over the years, Partridge estimates, he has done hundreds of paintings, including a large image of an elk that hung for years at the former Walla Walla Elks Lodge on Rose Street. Locally, he has shown at various Walla Walla businesses and The Little Theatre, and served as a coordinator for a Fort Walla Walla western art show. His most memorable award to date is the Grumbacher Award for best use of color, which he received at a Milton-Freewater art competition.
But what is most satisfying, Partridge says, is challenging himself to do new things and create artwork that others enjoy.
“To brighten just one person’s day with a form of art — that is why I paint. I love having the opportunity to take a small portion of what surrounds us every day and put it on canvas for people to enjoy.”
And to think that it all started, really, because of an inability to buy a bar of soap, and Mrs. Hill’s insistence that the problem, somehow, be solved.
Whatever happened, by the way, to that very first painting that launched it all?
“I gave it to Mrs. Hill.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment.