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Studio Visit: Barbara Walton

Posted on 05/24/2019 at 2:28 PM

Barbara Walton’s studio is located in downtown Ames where she has been a professor in Integrated Studio Arts at Iowa State University for 23 years. After walking up a narrow flight of stairs, I saw Barbara’s open studio door at the end of the hallway. Although the day I visited was rainy and gray, the studio was still filled with light and felt like a space conducive to creating. After giving me a tour and showing me the remnants of the occasional two or three-person encaustic workshops she holds there, Barbara picked up where she had left off on a new painting and I began to photograph the studio while we talked more.

Barbara Walton studio view 1

O-L: What led you to primarily working with encaustic and why do you prefer it to other media?

BW: It was always the mystery medium in the museums or the occasional exhibition that one might encounter an encaustic painting. I decided to look into it and took a weeklong encaustic workshop in Santa Fe in 2001. The gauntlet was thrown down with its immediacy in dry time and the amazingly sensuous aroma of beeswax. There were so many techniques to explore and endless applications.

Barbara Walton studio view 2

O-L: While your subject matter varies quite a bit, you seem to work around similar themes encompassing the natural and spiritual world. What are some of your influences and what subjects do you find yourself revisiting or more drawn to? 

BW: I always found refuge in nature. Being in nature comforted me and afforded me a wildness and curiosity and it made more sense than any organized religious upbringing.  
It is truth that we ourselves are nature and not above or separate from nature. The work that I do is a way to honor, to meditate to, to pray to, to conjure, to heal, to evoke, to remember, this connection. 

  • The horse – I was a 13-year-old city kid when I asked my parents for a horse. When they said “no”, I said “yes” in my head and began mowing lawns, babysitting, working at the market and bought myself a horse by the time I was 14. Caring and keeping this big beautiful buckskin gelding kept me grounded and alive, in my angst filled teenaged years. The horse = my holy dog = my totem.
  • The Lotus – When I have been absent from my studio for too long, I begin with a mandala painting to re-acquaint, find my way, my rhythm in my studio.

Barbara Walton studio view 3

O-L: The way you speak about your interests is very poetic. Your artwork often includes words and individual letters, so I’m curious what types of writings and/or research you gravitate toward and how that started to manifest in your practice?

BW: Text allows a place to begin, a focus. Even so, by the time I have completed a work, most of the words can become completely obscured. This doesn’t negate or lessen the value of the underlying text but rather allows a history, a depth, an enigma. The various text I choose come from prayers, poems, songs, invocations, meditations, mantras, literature, all which express an honoring, a reverence of earth, of nature, of all beings. The writings come from all over the world, from historical to contemporary.

O-L: What’s next for you? Any major projects or goals you have yet to conquer?

BW: I am excited to be working on the 20 Artists/20 Parks Project, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Iowa State Parks in 2020. This project is supported by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Arts Council. Pikes Peak Park is the park I have been assigned.
Beyond this, I have a dream to paint a large mural on a concrete wall using encaustic painting techniques and another dream to apply encaustic to sculptural forms that I would build.

Barbara Walton studio view 4

To experience Barbara’s work in person, be sure to come by the gallery on May 31st from 5-7pm for the opening reception of our ANNUAL LANDSCAPE SHOW

Photography by Alyss Vernon 

Studio Visit: Joel Elgin

Posted on 03/22/2019 at 1:56 PM

Organic materials and events inspire many of the forms depicted in our current exhibition, FLUID GROUND. In contrast to the “ground” portion of the exhibition title, printmaker Joel Elgin represents the “fluid” in this show. Elgin’s new series takes viewers to the brutal storms on Lake Michigan that he witnessed last summer. After the storms passed, Elgin took to his studio to translate his experience into his preferred printmaking process, intaglio. Elgin’s studio is at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he is a Professor of Printmaking. We were curious to know more, so we posed a few questions to Elgin to give our audience a little more insight.

Joel Elgin Storm on Lake Michigan prints


O-L: Your previous work draws inspiration form Irish mythology. What was the thrust behind this new direction?

JE: I talk a lot when I teach. Last spring I decided to listen to what I say and I learned that I constantly tell my students to not be locked into content, be alive to being seduced by new experiences.So instead of being in Ireland last summer, I had an encounter with a violent storm on Lake Michigan near Escanaba. I couldn’t leave it. I stood like an idiot, up to my knees in the waves, I was forced by the “squall” of high wind and heavy rain, to slowly turn, to witness the sublime power and beauty of the storm as it lashed the lake from north to south.

Joel Elgin in the studio UW-La Crosse 1

O-L: Can you talk about your process in translating your physical experience of this storm into two-dimensional imagery? Did you take reference photos or have a specific plan while working in the studio?

JE: I don’t use reference photos because from my experience they tend to have too much information. It’s too easy for me to get lost in the photo details and lose a bit of freedom. Because I don’t illustrate an event, or story in the case of the Irish works, I am free to create what I witness. Of course this means I’m not the most reliable witness…

O-L: What’s next for you? 

JE: I don’t plan to stop the Irish works; I still have a lot to explore in that wondrous country that has been producing art and myth since long before the Great Pyramids or Stonehenge.  At the same time I need to continue to make etchings about my new obsession with storms on the water. I’m looking forward to standing in some deep violent water and taking another beating from a storm or two this summer. Do you want to come?

O-L: Yes! Thank you for the invitation and for letting us in on your practice.

FLUID GROUND will be on view through April 5th. Come by the gallery to see Joel Elgin's prints, paintings by Christopher Chiavetta, Crit Streed's drawings, and ceramics by Amy Uthus. Be sure to check out our next exhibition opening Friday, April 12th from 5-9pm celebrating Olson-Larsen Galleries' 40th Anniversary! We will be exhibiting work by all 55 of our artists; a party you won't want to miss!

Studio Visit: Christopher Chiavetta

Posted on 02/08/2019 at 3:07 PM

It isn’t everyday we get to visit an artist’s studio, so we were thrilled to visit Christopher Chiavetta to select works for Olson-Larsen Galleries’ upcoming show FLUID GROUND. Bright morning sun lit up Christopher’s studio, and the plants lined up along the windowsill created a wonderful setting for Christopher’s art. Christopher’s current works explore a new minimalistic direction that juxtaposes his previous works. Christopher described how he spent a long time exploring disintegrating spaces whereas now he is looking to explore the opposite: solid, grounded forms. 

Christopher explained this new direction and what he hopes to convey: “By emphasizing a sense of groundedness I wanted to convey the impression of being surrounded by and within these metaphysical spaces. This past summer I spent a week painting a mural in a NYC park, and it was really exciting to see it evolve and become part of the environment. I enjoyed that process a lot and wanted to see what would happen if I took the same approach in the studio.”

To see Christopher’s completed works, come to the opening reception of FLUID GROUND on Friday, February 15th from 5-7pm or stop by to see the show February 15th—April 6th.

–Kelli Emerson

For the month of January, Olson-Larsen Galleries had some extra help from intern Kelli Emerson. Kelli is a senior at Luther College, studying English. One of the items we tasked her with was writing a blog post about our recent visit to Christopher Chiavetta’s downtown Des Moines studio. We were able to see some of his works in progress and made selections for the upcoming exhibition.

Photography by Alyss Vernon

Home Show Expo 2018

Posted on 09/06/2018 at 4:16 PM

Olson-Larsen Galleries has always enjoyed working with interior designers to find the perfect piece of original artwork for a client's space.

We were especially delighted when interior designer, Jillian Lare approached us about loaning artwork to fill an entire home by K and V Homes that she worked on for Home Show Expo 2018. A fun collaboration helped further Jillian's cohesive design for visitors to enjoy.

Learn more about Jillian here



Spring Gallery News

Posted on 05/24/2018 at 2:24 PM

Spring Gallery Night in Historic Valley Junction was a blast! 

We were honored and delighted to have all four featured artists attend the reception of ORGANIC FORMS! Thank you and congratulations on a great exhibition to Laura BermanMary Merkel-HessKen Smith, and EJ Frye

Come by to see the show before it closes on June 9th.

ONE PIECE: Joel Elgin

Posted on 04/06/2017 at 2:14 PM

Joel Elgin is one of our absolute favorite people on earth and we are so happy to share the Celtic legend that served as his inspiration for the series of prints that will be on view at Olson-Larsen until April 15. 

As a fine for killing the father of Lugh of the Long Hand, the commander of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the sons of Tuireann: Brian, Luchar and Lucharba are sentenced by Lugh to perform a series of seemingly impossible quests. 

Joel Elgin, Lucharba the First Son of Tuireann, Color intaglio, 18 x 24

The first task was to steal the heavily guarded, Three Apples From the Garden in the East of the World. The most beautiful apples of the world, the color of burned gold, with the power to ease the pain of wounds or sickness and to never diminish, despite being eaten.

The most clever of the brothers, Brian, changes them into beautiful hawks, and in that form they avoid the spears and arrows of the guardians and steal away the apples from the garden and finally escape the king’s three daughters, who in the shape of three ospreys, chase the hawks to the sea, heavily wounding the brothers with flashes of lightning.


ONE PIECE: Alyssa Tauber

Posted on 04/01/2017 at 1:55 PM

Our exhibit, SEVEN PRINTMAKERS is on view until April 15, so if you haven't checked it out you've got a little time still. We've admired Alyssa Tauber's work for years, so we were very excited when she accepted our invitation to be part of this exhibit. Below is her "One Piece" entry, which is as entirely captivating and thorough as her artwork. 

As an undergraduate I studied literature as well as art, and writers have been important influences on my work. I am interested, not in illustrating their stories, but in understanding their ideas. One of the most important ideas I found was William Faulkner’s conviction that a person could find worthy subjects in the vicinity of her “own little postage stamp of native soil,” as Faulkner put it. This was not obvious to everybody at the time -- many writers from the U.S. and Latin America felt they needed to go to Europe to find worthy topics. I want to make art which is accessible to everyone, not just people who have art degrees, and part of making the work accessible is using subjects which most people can relate to. Consequently, I try to find my subjects in the places I myself have been and the objects I myself have seen or lived with. Wind turbines have become part of the midwestern landscape.

Alyssa Tauber, Tripods, Collagraph, 22 x 27 

Drive for any distance and you are likely to see either the blades being transported, or the turbines themselves. No matter how many times I see the turbines, they always catch my attention. They are, after all, hard to miss. They are huge, man-made, industrial objects situated in pastoral landscapes, where they seem incongruous. They look even stranger at night, when some of them have a “face” consisting of red lights. I’m often interested in objects which can be personified, such as chairs, which have “arms” and “legs,” and the turbines seem to have “faces” and “arms” as well as bodies. This makes them appear almost monstrous. The title of the piece, “The Tripods,” is an allusion to the alien machines in H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. In this print the word “tripods” could refer to the three blades, or the three “creatures” themselves. The title leads to another element which drew me to the turbines -- their ambiguity. Some people see them as “good” objects -- they provide clean, renewable energy, and are sometimes viewed as symbols of the midwest. However, others see them as “bad” objects -- they kill birds, take up space which could be used for farming, appear inconsistent with the “rural” quality of the landscape, and are noisy.
My art invites the viewer to confront this ambiguity for him-- or herself.

ONE PIECE: Jeanine Coupe Ryding

Posted on 03/15/2017 at 1:50 PM

How thrilled were we that Jeanine Coupe Ryding picked one of our absolute favorite pieces from SEVEN PRINTMAKERS to highlight? Very. The below is Jeanine's description of the inspiration and process for her print Fill the Lake.  

I walk to Lake Michigan every week since it is just a mile from my studio. I have seen its colors in all seasons, day and night and all kinds of weather. When I can’t swim in it, I watch the lake and changes in the shore and sky. I have seen rain come across the lake like a veil. A curtain of drops that approaches and recedes, giving relief on a hot summer day.

Jeanine Coupe Ryding, Fill the Lake, Woodcut print with Sumi ink, 73 x 28

This print is inspired by the lake, it’s moods and the surprises of nature. The block is printed in white ink with a blue oval at the bottom representing the water. When the ink is dry, the print is laid face down on a large piece of plexiglass, sprayed lightly with water and brushed with Sumi ink. The ink is worked through the back to the front of the paper with the brush and time is allowed for the paper to slowly absorb the liquid ink. Whatever appears on the front of the paper is out of my control at this point. It is up to the Sumi, the paper and the humidity conditions in my studio to finish the print. It is always a surprise and worth waiting for the paper to dry before lifting the print to see what is there. It’s about working with control and letting go.

ONE PIECE: Larry Welo

Posted on 03/11/2017 at 1:54 PM

Much of the artwork in our SEVEN PRINTMAKERS exhibit has a narrative feel, Larry Welo's work is no exception to that. As always though, we wanted to know more, so we asked him to give us all the details on one of his pieces from the show. Enjoy! 

A long time ago, I lived in South Minneapolis.  At one end of my street was the Crosstown Freeway and the airport.  At the other end of the street was Lake Nokomis.  During the warmer months, in the evening, my family and I would walk up 27th Avenue to the lake where there was a small coffee shop that had ice cream. My studio, at the time, was in our home so I would frequent the neighborhood, sketching, and putting together ideas for my etchings.  I loved the evening walks up the street, witnessing the transition from day to night, with the sky still bright and the street lights and porch lights gradually coming on. 

Larry Welo, Dream House, Color etching, 16 x 20 inches

"Dream House", was one of the places we walked past on those magical evenings from a different time.  I created the etching a number of years later from the perspective of living in rural Wisconsin. I used a line drawing from the Minneapolis neighborhood as my source material.  The colors and values and mood are taken from my imagination.  I worked on the four plate color etching over a span of three years, using three primary ink colors and black.  This gave me a wide range of color possibilities when printing the piece.  I print the etchings on Gampi Sukiawase, a fine hand made printmaking paper imported by Paper Connection in Rhode Island.    

ONE PIECE: Aaron Tinder and Amy Uthus

Posted on 01/12/2017 at 3:20 PM

We have not just one ONE PIECE for you, but TWO (I know, right)!!! Invited artists in the current exhibit, Aaron Tinder and Amy Uthus shared with us about one their works we are currently showing. Happy reading!

Aaron Tinder

This piece is a good example of a process that I've been exploring for about a year now. It involves the juxtaposition of dissimilar elements in a way that reconciles them into some kind of formal composition. Specifically in this piece it's an old book cover that's been altered and recycled, combined with fragments of two particular kinds of imagery: floral/natural designs and a drag racing scene from a vintage automotive publication. The use of these kinds of subject matter (which could be interpreted as embodying masculine & feminine stereotypes) forces the elements of the artwork together in ways that are sometimes awkward and unexpected. It results in a composition that utilizes shape and interaction in very exploratory ways, but also finds the common ground in things pulled from diverse source materials. Pattern is something that I deliberately use often as a transition element in these works, and it often becomes a kind of necessary common ground. 

A Fictional Version
, Found materials on paper, 15 x 11 inches

The viewer can read this piece as a symbolic interpretation of what happens when influences from divergent sources are forced together (as in genetics from two parents, for example), or simply as a formal exercise in making something awkwardly beautiful from old discarded things. I'm happy either way, because it's both. 

Amy Uthus

The little porcelain boat and charred piece of wood, titled Precipice, represents one of my first forays into small scale sculpture. I love to make large installations that take over entire rooms. However, not everyone who loves art wants to dedicate an entire room to one piece! I have always loved tiny objects. With these two ideas in mind, I decided to try my hand at an intimate scale.

Precipice, Porcelain boat, charred wood, 1 5/8 x 3/4 x 1/2 inches

At a direct level, boats are vessels that carry objects and creatures from point A to point B. However, in the process they also transport intangibles - ideas, customs, hopes and dreams. Perhaps it is because of this that boats have historically been used to carry souls from one realm to the next and have come to represent navigation through life.

This boat is made of thin porcelain. In a nod to Viking funerals and my Scandinavian heritage, it sits atop a charred block of wood. Its delicacy and position perched on the edge of a precipice represent a moment of uncertainty. In this moment, a decision must be made - to stay safely sailing in known waters or to take a deep breath and plunge into the unknown. 

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