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Art Review

An Artist's Perspective: Fred Wassall

Artist Fred Wassall, born in 1904, moved to Wichita from his home of Birmingham, England, around 1926. He had visited his brother here and decided he liked the small town with the big city flair. 

In 1929, while at a party, over bootlegged alcohol and cigarettes, he met his future wife, the fiery and petite black-haired beauty Irma Baier. They married in 1930. 

With Fred’s British charm, blond slicked-back hair, and pencil mustache, coupled with Irma’s sultry beauty, they made quite a couple and were always noticed. They became the hub of the new bohemian set that included artists Birger Sandzén, Black Bear Bosin, Eugene Riveron, Bill and Betty Dickerson, businesswoman Olive Ann Beech, theater director Mary Jane Teall, and much later, writer Michael McClure.

Fred was a window dresser at Walker Brothers and Irma was a secretary. Together they made art, with Fred as a painter of merged styles of surrealism and Art Deco, and Irma a poet and writer for Downbeat Magazine. The times were electric with local and regional artists feeding off the new creative energy.

You can get a taste of this energy in a new exhibit titled: “Fred Wassall - Midwestern Mystic” at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. The exhibit is small but quite lovely. Situated in a beautiful room with low lighting and a gorgeous fireplace you get the feeling you are walking into a speakeasy. You can celebrate Mr. Wassall’s work and pick up a new book on the lives of Fred and Irma entitled “Fierce Ones” by Nancy Glenn and Glen Sharp while you’re there.