Jim Oberg 24X20 Oil on Canvas
24" X 20"
Oil On Canvas
I met Jim Oberg back in 1977 just after I moved to Sonoma County. I had just purchased a new home and was busy raising a family. I bought there because I liked the oak trees freely dotting the sprawling hills, the creek that ran the back of my property and the fresh eggs I could buy from the neighbor across the street.
One day, while driving through the small town of Petaluma I came to the outskirts of town where it met the four lane highway of 101 (2 lanes each way). There I noticed an early version of a strip mall that looked like something out of a western movie. Yep, wood buildings straight out of High Noon with a lumber yard at the end.
I drove in, parked and looked around. As I walked the wood board walkways that squeaked every few steps I came across an art supply shop. Walking in I was greeted with a friendly "hello" by an elderly gentleman. He introduced himself as Jim Oberg. He explained that he was the proprietor, sales person and maintenance man for the store, caretaker for the entire property and, by the way, owned the property too. There was also a nice restaurant there called Cattleman's.
Finding out that I was an artist he explained that he had a vacant shop he wanted to utilize. It would be perfect for some art classes and would I be interested? I explained that I would get back to him as I was in the middle of a commissioned project. Later I came back and agreed to run the art class for him. Mr. Oberg advertised the art class in the local newspaper and people began to sign up until the class was full. With 20 adult students he was happy with customers for his art supply store.
By now, and after many conversations, the two of us were on a first name basis. I asked Jim if I could do a few sketches of him around the lumberyard when he had free moments. He agreed to meet up in the early morning hours. I showed up the next morning with 2 cups of coffee, drawing pad and pencils in hand. Jim was there standing by his makeshift office, on the lookout for his next client who would be picking up lumber.
Offering him a hot cup of coffee I asked him how he came to Sonoma County. His story began with parents who were poor. He ended up with very little education, having to quit school early to go to work and help support the family. He explained somehow he had been born with some common sense and an understanding of business in general. While helping to contribute to his parents he was also able to save some money and buy a piece of open land north of Marin County. I asked him why he bought that specific piece of land. He explained that there was one stagecoach coming straight through from Marin to Sonoma each day. He could see the future and realized that there would eventually be a lot of construction that would spread out from the small Petaluma town.
"I could see the people coming to this very area
and they would be needing a lot of lumber to build their houses.
Meanwhile, they will be building roads and they will need supplies for that too.
And I have been here ever since."
Jim Oberg came from humble beginnings and managed to carve out a life suitable for himself and his family at times of personal hardship. He persevered because of his pioneer spirit and risk taking ventures.
He would say to me,
"If you don't take a chance you will never know.
You might miss an opportunity that you will never get again."
Jim was a wise man with a lot of respect for others. He also never missed an opportunity to make a buck. One day I asked him if he minded me tagging along and sketching him while he worked around the lumberyard. He said I could as long as I didn't slow him down. I thought to myself that I could not possibly slow him down anymore than he was already moving. After working on a portrait of him I was hesitant to show the painting but brought it in anyway. Turning to take a quick look Jim stopped and stared intently at the painting for about 15 minutes occasionally nodding his head. "Is this the way you see me?" he asked. I said, "Yes." In his understated manner he said, "It looks nice, Nick. Can I hang it above the cash register?" I told him the painting was his. Back fully in business mode he replied
"Either the painting will bring in more art students
or it will scare them away.
Anyway, we gotta take the chance."
I thanked Jim for his friendship and for allowing me to get to know him.
Today I think of this place we call home. Taking for granted all the amenities and modern conveniences it is hard to realize the struggles and hardships early pioneers encountered. Such was the experience of Jim Oberg.