‘Eichlerholic’ Creates Art Inspired by Eichlers

Art gallery
Wally Fields, whose face is as expressive as his voice and his writing, at the exhibit of his art in downtown Oakland's Archer gallery. Photo by Dave Weinstein

He was one of the trend-setting mid-modernists, a man whose love for all things Eichler led him to adopt a persona – ‘the Eicherholic’ – as he helped popularize Eichler homes in the early years of the rediscovery of mid-century modern tract homes.

Now Wally Fields is a sculptor and artist, channeling his feelings for Eichler into his art. His work is on display at the upstairs gallery of Archer Bicycles in downtown Oakland, part of a three person show. The show, at 431 13th Street, remains up through July.

Among the art on display are his “tafoni” sculptures, inspired by the weird, weathered, dimpled, cave-like forms often found on rock formations near the sea. He came upon some south of Pescadero.

Today Wally Fields, who wrote the Eichlerholic column for Eichler Network newsletter in the late 1990s and early 2000s, no longer spends as much time “roaming,” as he called it, through Eichler neighborhoods, meeting owners of their homes, touring the houses and writing about them in his characteristic style – humorous, deadpan at times, not infrequently awestruck.

'Tafoni Freestanding 1' is one of Wally's sculptures based on geologic features. Courtesy of Wally Fields

“Man,” he once observed, “does not live by Eichlers alone.”

But Wally has far from given Eichlers up. He can’t. They’re in – well, maybe not his DNA – but certainly deep within his mind.

Wally says his abstract art relates directly to the aesthetics and, more, to the deep feelings, stirred up by his memories of Eichler homes. “It goes way back to my roots,” Wally explains.

He spent his first few years of life in an Eichler in Palo Alto and, though his parents moved the family to a “Ward and June Cleaver-ish fake traditional tract home,” they kept the Eichler as a rental. Wally spent much time there and in the Eichler neighborhood, absorbing – something mysterious.

Decades later, after studying communications at Boise State and going into voice acting, Wally visited a multi-media producer to see about a job. The producer lived in the San Mateo Highlands – in an Eichler – and suddenly childhood memories flooded back.

“That excited my interest,” he recalls. He went online – and quickly discovered the Eichler Network, which itself was only a few years old, having started in 1993, near the dawn of the Mid Century Modern Renaissance. “It was really a kind of homecoming, getting involved with the Eichlers again,” Wally says.

'Tafoni Array Arrangement' may not look like an Eichler, but it shares in the spirit, Wally says. Courtesy of Wally Fields

For years Wally wrote the column, visiting Eichler owners, bicycling through the neighborhoods. He especially enjoyed visiting original owners – and he noticed that on their walls many had just the right kind of art.

The open, airiness of an Eichler, he says, resonates with art that is open and airy as well. They share an aesthetic. It’s hard for Wally to quite put it into words. But, as expressive a guy as he is – analytical too, very much a performer and a communicator – he loves to try.

About his love for Eichler interiors, for that mid-century modern style, he hazards, “There was a strange ethereal magic to it that I couldn’t explain. It was not necessarily spiritual, but psychological or aesthetic … When I look at a lot of modern art especially abstract expressionist, Cubist-type stuff, it’s the same kind of thing. There’s something magical about it.”

Discussing his art, he focuses on “the way space is cut up in sculpture.”

Two people
Wally and Betsy Archer, whose husband runs the bike shop and gallery in Oakland, talk art. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“I’m always trying to open [the sculpture] up as much as I possibly can. I don’t quite have the skill to open it as much as I want, but I’m getting better,” he says. “The same open and airy freedom is also what’s beautiful about the Eichler interiors.”

“If you find something that appeals to you in any capacity and you don’t know why,” Wally says, “I suspect that something is burbling in your subconscious mind and you don’t know what.”

Wally helped get two Eichler neighborhoods onto the National Register of Historic Places ten years ago as a member of the Historic Quest committee, and worked for many years on “the paperwork line,” he says, at NUMMI, a joint venture auto assembly plant run by Toyota and GM that closed in 2010.

Today, an avid bicyclist, he delivers bike parts for Wilson Bicycle Sales, a Hayward firm, does voice acting for radio, TV, and video games, plays a koto, “and once in a blue moon I’ll sell one of my [art] works,” he adds.

The simple beauty of an Eichler home, this one in the Sunnyvale neighborhood of Primewood, touches Wally deeply. His way of recapturing the feeling is through art. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Several people who have collected his work have installed it in their Eichler homes, Wally says.

“This is the Eichler vibe for me,” he says of his painting and sculpture. “I’ve just extended it out to the world of art. My fantasy is to sell art to Eichler people.”

Those interested in Wally Fields’ art can email him at gig@wallys.com.

Can you believe this?! Joe Eichler greeting JFK -- with Wally Fields looking on?? Joe was there, we know that for sure, and so was Kennedy. But for Wally? Only a dream! Image from archive of the Eichler Network

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