Nearly 300 pieces of artwork used to design billboards and advertising campaigns for the Olympia Brewing Co., will be preserved, thanks to a $5,000 Thurston County Historic Commission grant.
The paintings, photographs and advertising concepts were created to promote Olympia Beer from the 1930s to the 1980s, according to Karen Johnson, a curator with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which manages the collection.
“These are just typical ads for all kinds of advertising campaigns that the brewery had,” she said.
Most of the pieces have been covered in brown paper for decades and have been stored in the temperature-controlled archives room in the basement of the Schmidt House, the historic Tumwater home built for brewery owner Leopold Schmidt and his wife, Johanna. The house now is managed by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.
“We haven’t opened up all of the packages,” Johnson said. “But it’s like Christmas every time we open something up.”
The foundation was one of seven organizations that received 2017 Preservation Grants from Thurston County. The money comes from setting aside $1 from each $5 historic document recording fee that is collected by the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.
The grant program is managed by the Thurston County Historic Commission. It received 10 applications and ranked the requests. The Board of County Commissioners authorized funding for seven of the applications last month.
The Olympia Tumwater Foundation received a Historic Commission grant last year to process and preserve about 6,000 of its collection of 10,000 photographs from the Schmidt family and the brewery.
“It went really well,” Johnson said. “… The logical progression was to preserve the next most fragile thing, which was the artwork.”
The advertising artwork will be placed in acid-free boxes and cataloged. In October or November, the foundation plans to host an art show and feature 20 or 30 of the pieces, Johnson said.
“The whole focus is to share what we have, not keep it locked up,” she said. “… This is our county’s history in here.”
Olympia Tumwater Foundation director John Freedman said he believes the artwork will be a popular draw because the brewery was the county’s largest employer for many years.
“The brewery put Tumwater on the map,” he said.
Freedman said brewery workers saw their job as more of a way of life than an occupation. Olympia Beer items are highly collectable, and the artwork from the historic advertisements will probably tap into nostalgia, he said.
“The Schmidt family was very good to their employees; they had great benefits, great pay for the area,” Freedman said. “There’s a tremendous longing for that life again. It’s a bygone era.”
Other preservation projects
Thurston County Historic Commission and the Board of County Commissioners provided 2017 Preservation Grants to the following groups and projects:
▪ City of Lacey/Lacey Museum: A $5,000 grant will be used for the second phase of a project that will image and catalog the Lacey Leader newspaper.
▪ City of Tenino: A $5,000 grant will be used to replace the northern portion of the Tenino Quarry House roof.
▪ City of Olympia: A $5,000 grant will be used for a reconnaissance-level survey of 75 blocks of historic downtown Olympia.
▪ Woman’s Club of Olympia: A $5,000 grant will be used to repair column bases that support the porch and balcony at the club at 1002 Washington St. SE.
▪ Brighton Park Grange: A $2,600 grant will be used to replace an electrical box and update wiring in the main hall.
▪ Centennial Garden Foundation: A $2,000 grant will be used to add several varieties of roses known to have grown in Thurston County at the time of statehood.