During the 1940’s, Orville Sanderfield studied art and design at the University of Cincinnati. Some of his paintings had a surrealistic quality. In the early 1950’s, he showed his work at several exhibitions and received enthusiastic notice in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Orville Sanderfield was born in Kentucky in 1914. He was raised by his grandmother Nancy, who worked as a laundress. The family lived in Covington, where Orville attended the William Grant Negro School. He began sketching when he was a boy, drawing cartoon characters.
After Orville Sanderfield graduated from high school, he worked in Cincinnati as a janitor at the Jenny dress shop, forerunner of Gidding-Jenny. A manager noticed his artistic talent and set him to work in the window dressing department. The owner of the shop, Milton L. Brown, was impressed and offered to pay Sanderfield’s tuition so he could study art at the University of Cincinnati.
At UC, Sanderfield studied painting and design under well-known professors Reginald and Jennie Grooms. Reginald Grooms urged Sanderfield to enter his work in museum exhibits. Unfortunately, in 1947, Milton L. Brown died suddenly, and the financial assistance died with him. Sanderfield was forced to drop out of college.
Sanderfield went to work as a technical illustrator at General Electric, and he continued to paint. In 1950, he participated in an exhibit at Lee Chapel AME Church. A reviewer for the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote this:
“Outstanding among works displayed by talented Negroes are 20 paintings by Orville Sanderfield. One timely painting which has been creating much comment is a surrealistic work titled, 'Ash Wednesday.' Generally, I’m not so good at figuring out what surrealistic artists are trying to say on their canvasses, but with Mr. Sanderfield at my side explaining the work, I had little difficulty comprehending his artistry.”
The following year, 1951, Orville Sanderfield was one of nine artists from Cincinnati and New York who showed their work in the gardens at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lazarus III, frequent patrons of the arts.
In 1980, Orville Sanderfield began receiving cancer treatments at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. A year and a half later, in January 1982, he donated sixteen paintings to the Medical Center, in appreciation of the doctors. “These folks have been the best friends I’ve had,” Sanderfield said. “They’ve stuck with me.” Sanderfield said he planned to spend the spend the winter painting watercolors.
Orville Sanderfield died six months later, in July 1982. The odds seem good that some of his canvasses are still out there somewhere. Perhaps someday they will come to light.