William Doonan

I write books and stories.

Guest Blogger- local sage Bill Rozell

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We have a special guest blogger today, a local sage I’ve known for many years.  His name is Bill Rozell and he’s one of the most astute guys in the greater Sacramento region.  I invited him to guest blog because he sells books.  Well, not only does he sell books, but he’s been in the used and rare book business in one way or another for a long time, “since alt rock was new wave,” as he tells me.  Currently he and his wife Judith own JB Books and Dead Painters’ Gallery, projects under development in Sacramento and up and running already on the WWW.  Check out http://deadpaintersgallery.alibrisstore.com/

In any case, Bill has some insights into local places and folks that he’s agreed to share with us, so have a read, and feel free to comment!


Roseville is a town so temporally stuck that it’s often used by Hollywood as the generic Middle American, down-at-the-heels burg at some remove from the present. The old Bank of Italy building off Atlantic Street near the office building once owned by my grandfather was robbed by Emilio Estevez in Wisdom. The environs of the Greyhound station whence I used to send out boxes of hardcover mysteries to the author of In the Heat of the Night stood in for some benighted Alabama hole in Undercover with the KKK. So I got it right away when Fred pointed out to me the similarities between Vernon Street and Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning.”

Now that huge Hopper catalog resonné from his collection is on consignment in my inventory. Already sold are his fifty-year old critical synopsis of abstract expressionism, one of the many books he had on how to craft sentences, a large study of the techniques of the major Impressionists (and some that have since proved minor), the Recognition Pictorial Manual of ships carried aboard every warship in WWII (the Big One),  the Official Railroad Guide giving the location of every railroad station, depot or terminal in the contiguous US in 1968, his copy of Baa Baa Black Sheep, signed and inscribed to Fred in 1958 by Pappy Boyington (the oldest Boyington signature on the market anywhere in the world at the time), and many others.

Fred lives in Roseville. He is an ex-Marine from back before Vietnam and the guy in the UT Austin clock tower ruined that for everybody. His formal education ceased at graduation from Grant High in ‘49. In the Marines he learned to smoke weed and to paste himself to the ground when a trainload of bombs goes off in the rail yard.  (That’s another story, maybe two.)

When Fred took up painting, he set about compiling an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of the techniques of the great painters from Duccio di Buoninsegna  to Wayne Thiebaud. He stretched his own canvases. For a while, he ground his own pigments and mixed his own paints. He told me he never used black from a tube — the Impressionists never did, he said, except for Renoir.  He told me of three different pigment combinations that made blacks that jumped off the surface of the painting, and likely he knew even more. He showed me that Leonardo never used blue or gold paints.  He could perfectly mimic Cezanne’s palate, or layer thin glazes of pigment in linseed oil and turpentine like Rembrandt to make a sky that glowed.

Eventually he got good enough that he could sell his Mondrian knockoffs, then his own creations with large fields of reds, whites and blacks with Chinese characters calligraphed with wide brushes in their upper quadrants to people decorating in the Swedish modern en vogue at the time. In a little book on Corot that recently sold to a woman in Wichita I found neatly folded a letter from a UC Davis anthro professor, enclosing a check. It went on about how well one of Fred’s works fit in with his collection of East Asian street art.

Great big expensive monographs on fauvists and American regionalists that he acquired over a couple of decades are now being scattered to the antipodes. A huge Van Gogh tome printed in 1969 bears a $300 cover price.

Fred can’t live on his own now, and he can’t seem to get up the steam to do much. He doesn’t paint anymore. The kid who grew up understanding modern art because Fred explained it to him wishes he still would.



Written by williamdoonan

October 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Writing

One Response

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  1. […] up the road from there.  (OK, maybe “Airstream” shows up more often.) Fred Knudsen, about whom I’ve written elsewhere, expanded the stylistic repertoire of mixed media by gluing Chinese language newspapers and kanji […]

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