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Mr. Otis with brushes
Mr. Otis poses with brushes and paintings
(Special Collections, University of Washington LibrariesNeg. #MSSUA 491)
As interest in Mr. Otis grew during the 1950s, the art community and Holbrook fans noted distinct similarities between the reclusive Mr. Otis and the worldly Mr. Holbrook.

For one thing the works displayed a humorous, irreverent tongue-in-cheek and sometimes dark attitude that resembled Holbrook's own style. One observer said Otis used a "broadly satiric style that is by turns waspish and waggish."

Secondly, the subjects of the paintings seemed to closely parallel the writings of Holbrook: obscure nineteenth-century figures, such as Lydia Pinkham, Joaquin Miller, and Steve Brodie; assorted scenes of pioneers, populists, temperance crusaders, radicals, and loggers; and nostalgic, yet dark, scenes of farm and family life of an earlier time.

Finally, it was noted that while Otis paintings continued to be acquired by barter, the bartered goods were of a different sort. Otis paintings were now exchanged for such items as a bushel of filberts, twelve cans of dog repellent, a lifetime supply of Vermont maple syrup, and twenty pounds of wild rice. Was it only a coincidence that Holbrook himself loved filberts, hated dogs, was from Vermont, and often served wild rice at dinner parties?

The relationship of Holbrook and Otis was further muddled in 1957 when the Oregonian -- even then at the cutting edge of investigative reporting -- announced proudly that it had determined that Holbrook and Otis were one and the same person and that Holbrook painted the works in his leisure hours. The article even showed a picture of Holbrook wearing a beret and seated at an easel.

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