|For the remaining years of his life, Holbrook continued to be the leading patron of Mr. Otis. As late as 1963, one perceptive critic still considered Mr. Otis a "very considerable mystery" and noted that "Mr. Otis has the Reed College sophomore's reserve for making final judgments." But after Holbrook's death in 1964, Otis and his work were soon forgotten.
Mr. Otis once told Holbrook that recognition "remains fata morgana, the mirage of artists." But there are already indications that the arbiters of the art world from Portland to New York are ready to embrace the artistic vision of Mr. Otis.
Just a few years ago in Portland, the prestigious Metropolitan Arts Commission unanimously rejected the gift of a sculpture commemorating the Oregon Trail pioneers because as a symbol of "manifest destiny" it was not politically correct. Surely, it will not be overlooked that Mr. Otis' controversial The Pioneer Mother With Child and Late Husband and Lewis and Clark Return to the Oregon Trail preceded this assault on the Pioneer Cult by forty years.
In New York, the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum's "American Impressionism and Realism" exhibition reproaches the nation's acclaimed impressionist and realist painters for ignoring the problems and dark side of society, while emphasizing the "more smiling aspects of life." Certainly no such charge can be made of the Otis oeuvre; see for example The Logger Well Content and Fido Can Set Up.
If Mr. Holbrook could only be here today to observe these developments, I am sure he would proclaim that in Mr. Otis we now have our first politically correct twentieth-century American artist.
Brian Booth, a well-known authority on Oregon literature, edited Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks: Stewart Holbrook's Lowbrow Northwest (OSU Press, 1992), a collection of Holbrook's writings on colorful characters in Pacific Northwest and American history. The book includes Booth's extensive introduction and additional reading list that will satisfy any reader's curiosity about Holbrook.