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Studio Visit: Gary Olson

Posted on 11/10/2020 at 4:00 PM

Olson-Larsen Galleries Manager, Alyss Vernon recently visited and photographed Gary Olson's studio.
Enjoy a glimpse into his world through her lens!

When Gary delivered his latest batch of work to the gallery the week before THE ANIMAL SHOW opened, we were delighted to see a collection of creatures that one could imagine being characters from the same Tim Burton film. There were anthropomorphized birds, horses with unique accessories, rabbits with a message, and a distinctly angered fish meant to be suspended from the ceiling. 

Gary Olson sculptures- rabbit and bird
Left: Young Rabbit with a Bronze Shoe     Right: A Family Resemblance

Gary has been involved with Olson-Larsen Galleries for nearly its entire history. In 1979, Marlene Olson and Ann Larsen took over Jan Shotwell’s gallery and Gary was there to lend his wife a hand with whatever needed to be done. He had a large role in installing the distinguishing wood ceiling that still remains in the main gallery today and garners commentary from guests weekly. The gallery exhibits what Gary describes as his “serious work”, framed compositions of small objects and wire seemingly suspended in compressed space between sheets of Plexiglas. 

Installation image and detail from Gary's work exhibited in "New Work", October 2017.

Although the “serious work” is thought provoking and successful, the sculptures Gary creates certainly speak to his innate sense of materiality. The care and appreciation he has for objects became even more apparent when I visited Gary’s studio about 30 minutes east from the gallery. Gary and Marlene live in the same house Gary grew up in. Past the main house, there is a garage, separate studio, and guesthouse where the O-L frame shop was housed until 2010 when it was moved to the gallery. In walking the grounds with Gary, it is evident that the Olson’s are both artists and master gardeners. There are sculptures and labeled plants strategically placed throughout. The day I was there, mulch was being collected, distributed, or burned from the vestiges of what used to be a Christmas tree farm on one side of the property. The trees that remain were left to grow larger than living room appropriate and no longer line up in tidy rows as they once did.

After showing me around, Gary and I put our masks on and went inside his studio. I enjoyed listening to him speak about each work in progress, where it started and where it might be headed– both literally and metaphorically. Everywhere I looked, I noticed a different item and I wondered what its fate might be. Re-purposing existing materials and giving them a different life seems to be a skill Gary has been practicing and will continue to practice for years to come.

Views inside the studio.

We theorized about why artists make work, what they have to prove or what they need or want to express with their art. We agreed that being an artist is to be vulnerable; that artists often set out to overcome something. Like other artists, Gary vacillates between wanting to give viewers hints about the work and wanting them to come to their own conclusions. I believe he strikes a fine balance between the two and I can’t help but think that questioning his motives is what adds a little magic to these creatures.

THE ANIMAL SHOW is on view in the gallery through Small Business Weekend, the days following Thanksgiving. Come by to see Gary's sculptures and the rest of the animals in the show!

The beginnings of new work in progress.

We are open our normal business hours, masks required.
Tuesday-Friday 11-5pm and Saturdays 11-4pm. Stop by or call 515.277.6734 or email with questions.
We're always happy to schedule appointments outside of those hours to suit your needs. Also catch us on Thursday nights for Jingle in the Junction. We will be open until 8pm on November 19, December 3, 10, and 17. A perfect time to explore Valley Junction to support small businesses and find that perfect holiday gift!

Peter Feldstein: Memories & The Oxford Project

Posted on 09/23/2020 at 1:38 PM

Peter Feldstein collage portrait by David VanAllen
Photo collage portrait (detail) of Peter Feldstein by David VanAllen provided by David Dunlap

Peter Feldstein was a prolific artist with a brilliant, creative mind. We are so proud to be able to honor his life and career through with a retrospective exhibition and collection of memories from those who still hold him close. 
Please enjoy reading more memories from Peter's loved ones and information on his most recognized series, The Oxford Project.

Jane Gilmor photo collage portrait by David VanAllen
Photo collage portrait (detail) of Jane Gilmor by David VanAllen provided by David Dunlap

David Dunlap remembering Peter:

"Somewhere, All Things Considered ( ? ), yesterday I heard something I think I have heard before. It is true, we do die, but when we really die ( “Gone Gone Gone” says Allen Ginsberg ) is when no one calls out our name anymore.
A couple of years ago, Chris Roy ( “Gone Gone Gone” ) was speaking about those great, African caskets [at the University of Iowa]. I was in the audience. I raised my hand to ask a question.  Chris acknowledged my waving hand.  He addressed me, called out my name “Peter”.

O how I liked this. Peter endures. Peter continues on when someone calls out his name, now folded into my name not yet gone. Peter and I were often mistaken for one another.  It was somewhat of a mystery to both of us. Peter and I collaborated many times over many years. Maybe we rubbed off one another.  

I like to think this happened. I like to think about what I learned from Peter ( thank you )."

The Oxford Project press release 1
Partial press release from 2008 when The Oxford Project was published, provided by Amy N. Worthen.

Jim Snitzer remembering Peter:

"I was lucky to have a good friend as a colleague and a trusted colleague as a friend. Peter was certainly both of those. 

Peter and I were friends for a long time. As a new faculty member, he took me under his wing, always looking out for me. One of the things we shared was a sense of gallows humor, a necessity for navigating academia.  Once, apropos of nothing, he said “You know…” and I just started laughing, because I knew exactly what he was going to say. Peter was a gregarious and endearing character and he provided all who knew him with memorable moments of comic relief - some knowingly, some not - but always willingly. 

That willingness to not take himself too seriously is indicative of how generous a person he was, something which also made him - probably against his wishes - a dedicated faculty member. He was instrumental in establishing the school’s first computer cluster, and for many years was a passionate and vocal advocate for the school’s photography program.

As he counted down to his retirement, he was the happiest I’d ever seen him. Finally, he was getting the last laugh.  

I’m grateful to him for all his years of friendship and support and miss hearing that laugh.  The world is a smaller and sadder place without him. "

Peter Feldstein and Amy Worthen in Italy
Amy N. Worthen and Peter Feldstein in Italy 2009, image provided by Amy N. Worthen

Amy N. Worthen remembering Peter:

"In September 1967, I arrived in Iowa City to begin graduate school in printmaking at the University of Iowa. I knew no one in Iowa, although I had a piece of paper with two names written on it from my mother. One of the names was that of Peter Feldstein. He had grown up as the backyard neighbor of my parents' friends and their four daughters in White Plains, New York, and was a graduate student at the U of I. Peter was essentially the first person I met in Iowa.

Throughout our graduate school days in the tumultuous late '60s, we ran into each other from time to time. He became a faculty member.  I moved to Des Moines. When Peter joined the group of artists represented by Olson-Larsen, I followed his pioneering exploration of digital printmaking. We would see each other at openings. In 2006, he and Stephen Bloom approached the Des Moines Art Center to talk about their work on The Oxford Project. I was assigned to develop a show of their work for Print Gallery and I wrote a gallery guide, so we really reconnected professionally over this project. We visited back and forth in Oxford and Des Moines.  In 2009, I co-curated an Italian version of The Oxford Projectexhibition that was shown at an annual photography festival in Padua (near Venice) in the Veneto Region, Iowa's Sister State. The show included twenty-one of Peter's photographs and the texts translated into Italian.The city of Padua published a beautiful bilingual and fully-illustrated catalogue. Peter traveled to Venice for the opening and stayed with me and Tom at our apartment there. Just this past September 2019, Peter's photo and text panels were shown once again, in a beautiful exhibition space in the small city of Este.

The last time I saw Peter was perhaps a year before his death, when we ran into each other on a street corner in Iowa City. He had had a stroke and had difficulty speaking. I felt so sad. I am grateful that I was able to enjoy a fifty-year friendship with Peter. We two New Yorkers in Iowa had shared nearly a lifetime of connection and we both felt deeply appreciative that Iowa had nurtured our creative lives."

Amy is Curator of Prints and Drawings, Emerita at the Des Moines Art Center and has been represented by Olson-Larsen Galleries for 40+ years. See her work here.

Peter Feldstein self portrait 1984 and 2007
Self portraits from 1984 and 2007, marking the beginning and end of The Oxford Project– from the catalog published in conjunction with The Oxford Project exhibition in Padua, Italy in 2009. The catalog included text in both English and Italian.

Installation image of The Oxford Project 1

Installation image of The Oxford Project 2
Installation images at Olson-Larsen Galleries of three Oxford Project prints originally exhibited in 2007.


In the final presentation of The Oxford Project, text by Stephen Bloom is in the center of the composition flanked on either side by portraits made by Peter from 1984 and 2005 of the residents of Oxford, Iowa. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Those who knew Peter, had a beginning with him, maybe a nebulous middle, and we like to think that there will be no end to his memory and the impression he left on us.

We want to extend our gratitude to Josephine Tornabuoni and the many others who helped make this exhibition possible. Thank you for coming along with us as we shared Peter's life and work with you!


Remembering Peter: Process and Fond Memories

Posted on 09/09/2020 at 12:00 PM

Peter Feldstein portrait

Olson-Larsen Galleries has represented Peter for over 30 years. After he passed away in late 2017, we wanted to honor his vibrant life and artistic career with a retrospective exhibition presenting unseen prints from Peter's archive, pieces on loan from private collections, works from our inventory, and remembrances from his friends, colleagues, and former students. In this post, we will share insights into some of the techniques Peter used and developed as well as some memories from a few of his friends.

Above: Cibachrome print ca. 1989, process sculpture, both on loan from Marlene & Gary Olson.
Below: Cibachrome prints ca. 1982 on loan from Farm Bureau Financial Services.

Peter Feldstein was an artist originally from Mt. Vernon, New York. After receiving his M.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, he called Oxford, Iowa home. He retired in 2006 from his long-time position of Professor of Art at the University of Iowa where he taught photography and digital imaging. Being a part of the University community gave Peter room for experimentation in his work. The installation images above show a few examples of his work from the 80s and 90s. Cibachrome prints and the later Ilford Ilfochrome print materials, were designed for making prints directly from color transparencies. Unlike traditional color negative/positive printing papers, where the colored dyes comprising the picture were made by color couplers in a color developer, Cibachrome print materials were manufactured with the dyes already incorporated in the printing paper. 

The sculpture pictured above is an example of the objects Peter could construct, paint, and modify for the sole purpose of being photographed. These objects became the subjects of his abstract color photographs as he would arrange and light them in various compositions for the final image. 

Peter Feldstein artwork

Randy Richmond remembering Peter:

"Develop a vocabulary and then build on it."
"I think there should be an electronic device that would shock someone when they activated the shutter. That way nobody would take a picture unless they REALLY wanted to."
"I want to know what this tells me about YOU!"
"There is no good reason for anyone to stand in front of a camera naked."

Peter had an ability to gently, and completely reorder your view of the world. There was no aspect of photography that he wasn't curious about, or wanted to try. He also had an ability to quickly make a style or technique his own. As the non-analogue word of photography spread, he was already figuring out ways to show how it could be used differently. He was obsessive, driven, private, and generous.

I'm still developing my vocabulary..."

A former student of Peter's at the University of Iowa, Randy is a photographer, educator, and has been represented by Olson-Larsen Galleries since 2012.

Peter Feldstein cliche verre
Silver gelatin (black and white darkroom) cliché verre prints ca. 1990, on loan from Farm Bureau Financial Services.

Stephanie Brunia remembering Peter:

"I first met Peter one summer during my undergrad at University of Iowa. He was retired and therefore wasn’t my professor, but he was looking for a studio assistant to help him scan old negatives for the Oxford Project book. For my interview, I showed up to a cavernous brick building on Oxford’s main street and was greeted by an enthusiastic Peter who brought me into the studio for what was to be a charming first meeting. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but I do remember that at the end of our discussion, Peter wanted to show me some YouTube clips of some Britain’s Got Talent contestants. As a tiny 7-year-old sweetly sang 'Over the Rainbow' on the screen, Peter got tears in his eyes and talked about how he got emotional whenever he watched that clip. That was it for me—that moment solidified my love for Peter.

The rest of the summer I came and went from that studio scanning negatives, chatting with Peter and befriending his studio cat, Boo. The drives from Iowa City to Oxford were winding and bucolic—they’re some of the more peaceful moments I can remember from that time in my life. Peter was inherently community minded always chatting with people nearby—there were frequently visitors stopping by the studio for a quick hello.

It was Peter who would check in on me periodically in the years after my summer as his assistant, long after I had moved away from Iowa City. He always had a story to tell and a political opinion to share. When I moved back to Iowa City, I was excited to learn that Peter was renting out the very building that I had worked in all those summers previously. It seemed fitting to set up my home and studio in Oxford. I lived there for a few years and would see Peter and his wife, Josephine, on a regular basis (they lived next door, after all). Both were supportive of my studio practice and I couldn’t believe how lovely the space was that I was able to live/work in. All of that is to say that Peter is greatly missed. His generosity, enthusiasm and his open nature charmed and won over many. I am grateful to have been one of those people."

Peter Feldstein artwork
Archival inkjet prints, 22x22" ca. 2012. Installation image and detail of each print. 

The original cliché verre technique was a method of drawing on a ground-coated or smoked glass and printing the resulting image on a light sensitive paper.  It is a process first practiced by the Barbizon school painters, including Camille Corot, during the early part of the 19th century.  Peter works on glass, film, and translucent paper and has developed techniques for achieving a variety of line, tone, texture, and color, using ink, paint, and a wide assortment of tools for etching, scratching, rubbing, and daubing.  The "positive" is then scanned, often manipulated digitally, and printed on an Epson ink jet printer.

In a series of Peter’sinkjet prints developed between 2010-2015, he layered abstract shapes that appear to be moving and morphing into new configurations. Peter wrote that his images “provide an anchor for reflection upon, and hopefully understanding of, my place in my macro community.”  

Peter Feldstein artwork
6-5-12-1 and 6-6-12-1, Archival inkjet prints, 34x34" ca. 2013

John Engelbrecht remembering Peter:

"I first met Peter as a student hoping to get into grad school at Iowa. I set up a meeting for a studio visit and he welcomed me, though I had no affiliation with the school yet. The studio visit went well, we hit it off and he liked the work. The meeting ended with him saying, good luck, I’m retiring so have no say in who’s going to be accepted this year!

I ended up studying with Jim Snitzer, Margaret Stratton, and John Freyer, but Peter was often around at receptions and at artist talks. (I remember being horrified when, attending an artist talk in the 3rd row, he answered his phone and had a short conversation w/o leaving his seat). He was friends with David Dunlap, as am I, and I hung out with him at Walnut Farms several times. He photographed there during a Paintallica event and captured my portrait as Thee Strawman (the only official portrait of that entity).

The last time I saw him was at the drawing table at David Dunlap’s place. We talked about exhibitions, Iowa City, and growing old. He was always kind to me and interested in my work and the work I was doing at Public Space One."

Watch for our next blog post with remembrances from colleagues and friends who worked closely with Peter in addition to material on his most notable series, The Oxford Project


Studio Insights: Chris Dahlquist

Posted on 08/25/2020 at 3:23 PM

Welcome to the Olson-Larsen Galleries artist family,
Chris Dahlquist!

We are very excited to add Chris to our roster of talented artists! If you have ever strolled around the Des Moines Arts Festival, you have probably heard of or seen Chris's beautiful work before. She is a pleasure to work with and we hope you enjoy her artwork as much as we do. Watch the video below about Chris's history and keep scrolling to learn about the two bodies of work you can find in the gallery, Measuring Abundance and Ghost Notes.

Chris Dahlquist Headshot 

Dahlquist-Quadrat A
Quadrat A: Investigation - Air

Measuring Abundance

In this new series Measuring AbundanceI continue my practice of utilizing materials, layers, texture, and the mark of my hand to further the story of the photographs I have captured. For this body I am using semi-translucent acetate over a traditional rag paper, obscuring details and adding marks created both digitally and by hand. 

This series is informed by a recent consulting project where I was tasked with measuring the value of artists and the arts using data and graphs and responding to my new involvement in a real estate world where the discussion is regarding both cost and income per square foot or value per acre. But in this type of accounting, how do we measure the value of something that can’t be quantified? When society is busy doing a cost benefit analysis, how do we measure abundance? The sky? The wind? Silence? Time to be alone with our thoughts?

Quadrat: a tool for measuring abundance.

quadrat is a frame, traditionally square, used in ecology and geography to isolate a standard unit of area for study of the distribution of an item over a large area.

Dahlquist-Quadrant D
Quadrat D: Investigation - Disturbance

Ghost Notes

The underlying visual reference that runs through all the bodies of work I have created, including Ghost Notes, is the international photography movement known as Pictorialism, which was prevalent from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. This photographic movement aligned itself very closely with painters, aiming to “create” rather than simply “take” photographs. Visually Pictorialism had much in common with the Tonalist painters of the same time period, and this influence is very apparent in both my Ghost Notes series as well as my Mile Marker series. The mark of my hand can be found throughout all of my work making each work unique despite it’s photographic origins; similarly the Pictorialists used what they called “ennobling processes” to create original pieces that were sometimes mistaken for drawings or lithographs. 

The title of this body is a reference to a musical term. In music, ghost notes are notes that are played but not meant to be heard, with their presence by contrast amplifying the notes around them. 

Strength                                                                Shapes and Stories

Works in the Ghost Notes series are multi-layered pieces with a foundational photograph, archival pigment ink, cold wax, washi paper, rag paper. They are simultaneously haunting and beautiful. 

Chis has her hands in so many facets of the arts. She is an advocate, consultant, educator, and creator. Chris has partnered with Kansas City, MO, the Kansas City Economic Development Council and AltCap: Alternative Capital for Community Impact to develop and launch the first artist centered micro-lending program in the country. Most recently, she developed the Creative Economy Initiative for Bravo Greater Des Moines, a comprehensive action plan for the support of individual artists living and working in the Des Moines area.


Studio Visit: Laura Berman

Posted on 07/07/2020 at 2:33 PM

Laura Berman has been a part of the Olson-Larsen artist family since late 2017 and since then, we have received countless comments on her joyful and bold use of color! Whether it’s her layered monoprints, hand painted or collaged elements; we always look forward to every new batch of work Laura sends our way. We recently asked Laura a few questions to give you a glimpse into her working process.

OLG: What role does color play in your life– both in daily life and your artistic practice? Does one inform the other? 

LB: My daily life holds mostly subdued colors, with some strong, solid colors anchoring my surroundings. We live under a tremendous 200+ year old oak tree, and the light shifts around the tree and its leaves during the day, simultaneously shifting the colors around inside our home. The most colorful things I live with are in my kitchen and in my closet. My interactions with color are very intuitive, whether I’m choosing what to cook or what to wear. Either way, I find that the colors I choose to engage with are something I need in that moment or day, for instance, I’m known to have random cravings of richly-toned foods such as carrots, beets and kale. I’m also known to always print the color I’m wearing that day, so I’m careful to choose my clothing wisely on studio days. Today I plan to print new layers on the very colorful “Starburst” print series, using at least 11 different colors, so I am wearing a rainbow-striped dress. 

Laura Berman studio portrait
Photo by Lindsay Clipner

OLG: You recently partnered with Speedball Art demonstrating the various ways you use color both in theory and in practice. Walk us through that process a little, did anything surprise you or did you learn anything new about your work or studio habits?

LB: Last March, Speedball Art asked me to contribute their new “Create in Place” program. We decided to work with the idea of how I approach color in my work. I recently developed a class called “Color Printmaking” at Kansas City Art Institute, which explores ideas and techniques of using color. For this class I have read dozens of books about color theory and the history of color as a material. Something that has really inspired me as a teacher and as an artist is the idea that color can be both an idea and also a thing. Color defies definition––does it live in our minds or in our world? Does it reflect or does it absorb? Is it excessive, is it elusive? What does color really mean, anyway? 

I asked the Speedball Art audience to request colors to mix, and I ended up with 24 different requests for colors. I mixed all of these colors in one marathon inking session, which took about an hour to do, but many hours to set up, document and edit into a color-mixing video. I created each color from my own idea about it––to me, “Minnesota Lake Water” was a grayish-blue and solid-looking color, and “very evil yellow” was an unnatural greenish-yellow color that glowed like neon. One funny thing I learned is that my husband and I do not see colors the same way. He requested “Purportedly Prepared Puce (with a tinge of regret)” and did not agree with my interpretation of this color, haha! Watch the video here.

artist Laura Berman, photographer Lindsay Clipner
Photo by Lindsay Clipner

OLG: We have been coordinating with you this spring and summer on a client commission. In this case, the client gravitated toward a particular series of yours, but wanted to offer some direction in the colors you used. Can you speak about how you typically navigate commissions? Is it ever challenging to execute your original vision for the work while still adhering to the client’s wishes?

LB: I enjoy commission projects very much, as each is a unique design challenge to solve. Working newly through imagery I have used before is calming as well as challenging. Once I have created a series of prints with any given image motif and scale of shape, I know certain strategies of building the image that work and do not work, so that part is always fun to repeat in new ways. An analogy would be playing a song on the piano that you have played many times––each time is slightly different while each time also keeps a similar rhythm and melody going. But there is always the chance for a slip-up or improvisation along the way too, which is the challenging part for me. Each step of my printing process is a place where I can make a choice–-what color to use, what placement within the composition to go with, is this part of the print done, or does it need to grow more? Finding the sweet spot of intrigue and specificity within each image I make is the goal, but that line can be crossed. If I do mess up a print, then it becomes the perfect material for my collages.

Process images for the commissioned "Starburst" prints

OLG: We have several of your latest works in our Annual Landscape Show: Parallels on view through July 25th, 2020. When thinking about what the traditional definition of landscape art is and then pushing it to what it could encompass, we felt that your work fit like a glove. What landscape elements are you inspired by and see recurring thematically in your work? 

LB: I love that my work is included in the Annual Landscape Show. The relationship of the sky to the earth is a huge influence on my work. This is a dynamic and timeless relationship, where shifts constantly occur in small and quick ways, as well as in large and slow ways. My process of working reflects this idea of continual rebuilding and recreation. As I work through a series of images, I am slowly adding or removing colors, realigning compositions, and playing with the space within each print. My work is often abstract in form, yet the concept of distance greatly informs each image I create. I am often thinking of how color informs space, in a way that describes dimensional form. Relating this back to a landscape, the colors when viewing a great vista are most dilute at the furthest distance away (unless the sun is approaching the horizon). How we psychologically understand distance within colors, and the relationships of colors together, is something I think about often. 

We can't wait to see these in person and installed in the client's home!

Come by the gallery to see more of Laura's bright, cheerful work and follow her on Instagram @bermanlaura to see the latest from her studio!

Laura creates beautiful collages made from the remnants of her signature monoprints. These pieces from her "Origin" series are included in our Annual Landscape Show: Parallels

Iowan in Venice

Posted on 04/14/2020 at 11:56 AM

Amy Worthen is a well-known Des Moines printmaker, scholar in the art of printmaking, and Emeritus Curator of Prints at the Des Moines Art Center. Her engravings, often architectural in content, combine humor, history and a dedication to expressing the full effect of the printmaking medium. Amy splits her time between Iowa and Italy, and we were curious what life has been like for her over the past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

OLG: How long have you been splitting your time between Iowa and Venice, Italy and what have you enjoyed most about the portions of time you spend in Italy?

AW: I began splitting my time between Iowa and Venice on a regular basis in 2004, but for many years before we moved into our own apartment that we bought, I had been spending long periods of time in Italy.

Amy Worthen drawing on her terrace in Venice, Italy
Amy's neighbor, Philip Tabor sent Amy his view of her drawing on her terrace

OLG: Tell us about a day this time last year spent in your Venetian life. 

AW: In April 2019, I was in Venice and was busy finishing two engravings of the Iowa State Capitol to be used by the Iowa Economic Development Authority as gifts for foreign trade delegations.  One of the images was Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Iowa. I was spending a lot of time at the studio of my edition printer, Roberto Mazzetto. At home, I was drawing the wisteria on the terrace of my apartment, something I do every year. Personally, I was still adjusting to the death of my husband, who had passed away less than a year before, and was uneasily anticipating our impending wedding anniversary in April.

2019 Iowa Economic Development Authority commissioned prints
2019 Iowa Economic Development Authority commissioned prints

OLG: We always enjoy seeing the lovely mix of masterful architectural rendering and whimsical flora and fauna in your work. Walk us through your typical process and timeline from initial brainstorming and sketching to finished prints. 

AW: I draw with India ink and watercolor in bound sketchbooks. Subject matter might be historic places drawn on site, things in my house, or plants growing in my garden. Recently, political rallies during the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses have been a subject as well. Out of the hundreds of drawings I make, something might seem promising as the basis for an engraving. If I have a commission (such as recent projects for the State of Iowa, and ISU), I make many drawings and do research about the subject. Anything fanciful comes out of something I have learned about the history of the place. Once I have a final (ink) drawing to work with, I make a tracing of the general outlines with a 6B (soft) graphite pencil on tracing paper. I coat the copper plate with either dilute hard ground or white wax; place the tracing face down on the plate and roll it through the etching press. The graphite transfers in reverse onto the coated plate. I then take a dry point needle and lightly incise the outlines of the design. I remove the wax and then begin to engrave. It may take a month or more to engrave the image. I take many proofs along the way. I can draw on the proofs in order to consider what to do next. I finally end up with a finished engraved image. Then it is time to experiment with inking, wiping, and paper. Either I print in my studio in Des Moines or, for large editions involving texts and folders, Robert Mazzetto in Venice prints the edition.

Amy Worthen sketch book
Daily sketches of terrace views including a quiet canal, rosemary, wisteria, and cumquats

Amy Worthen Venice kitchen table
Kitchen worktable

OLG: Do you expect your current, isolated mode of working to influence or change your artistic practice once life is back to normal? Have you noticed that you’re more or less productive or focused right now?

AW: I am being very productive right now making drawings. I arrived in Venice in early February with one drawing project to complete and I got right to work. I also am working on a research paper on a 15th-century Venetian scholar monk to present at a conference in December 2020– if the conference will still take place.

Once the virus arrived in Italy, public life started closing down. On February 29, Carnevale was ended early, and within a week, Venice became empty and silent. Official lockdown began in Venice on March 8. Since then, we can only go out for essentials, and must carry a document declaring identity and purpose of the trip. Otherwise, we are limited to a distance of 200 meters (263 paces) from home. Masks and gloves are to be worn in stores. Only food shops and pharmacies and a few public offices such as post offices are open. I should emphasize that despite the terrible toll coronavirus is taking on Italy, I feel very safe. People are taking the restrictions and distancing seriously.

The lack of distractions, such as the inability to go to museums, exhibitions, libraries and archives, or to meet friends, makes me focus.

I knew that my drawings are a record of this historic time. Currently, I am drawing rosemary, a kumquat tree, and wisteria, the views from my terrace, and the shadows of plants. I drew my dining table set for a Passover Seder celebrated with others connected on Zoom. I make notes on the soundscapes - right now mostly the call of gulls, the ringing of church bells, an occasional voice. The sloshing of water in the canal when a rare boat goes by. My awareness of the news of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is always present. One day, I made a very bizarre drawing and then wondered - and wrote on the drawing - what if this is the last drawing I ever make? (It wasn’t.)

Every morning, I get up and feel eager to begin work.  I keep thinking I should start engraving a plate but am not ready to commit to that yet. 

Thoughts about the future:

Because of the isolation, feedback about my art via social media has become more important to me. Two friends suggested that I post my rosemary and wisteria drawings to a botanical drawing group on Facebook. I joined the group and in only 24 hours my first post received over 1,200 reactions - likes, loves, etc. I now understand that the desire to accumulate likes can feel like a drug.

I am hoping that shifting our lives and art to social media will not ultimately affect people’s desire to be in the presence of and possess original art.

OLG: You raise an interesting point. It has been so encouraging to see how people have found virtual ways of staying connected and create a sense of community online amidst these challenging times. As a traditional art gallery that has represented yours and other’s artwork for 40+ years, we have had the unique challenge and pleasure of adapting in order to bring art to new audiences through digital platforms. While the changes have not come without uncertainty, we maintain that experiencing original artwork online will not replace in-person interaction nor become a surrogate for pride in ownership. 

Click here to watch a 2013 KKCI interview in Amy’s Des Moines studio to learn a little bit more about her artistic process. 
Check out more of Amy's work on our site here.
Also browse through many more of Amy's prints and drawings held in the Iowa State University Museums collection and consider purchasing the catalog produced in connection with Amy's 2017 retrospective exhibition,
"Amy N. Worthen: The World in Perspective".

Help Us Win a Small Business Grant!

Posted on 02/26/2020 at 1:12 PM

We would love your support and help in our chance to win a $25,000 grant in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest!

At Olson-Larsen Galleries, part of our mission is to always be innovating and bringing art to new audiences. In order to do so, we have entered the annual FedEx grant contest and we need you help to get there!


You can vote once per day through March 8th. Set a reminder on your phone and then help us spread the word! Every vote counts and we truly appreciate you helping us get the word out so we can continue to grow our business and expand the quality art offerings we strive for.


Elevator Pitch

A contemporary art gallery representing regional artists and specializing in creative solutions, archival framing, and impeccable service.

Olson-Larsen Galleries opening receptions

Tell us about your business. What inspired you to get into it, what you sell/service you offer, what makes your business stand out and how it impacts you, your community or the environment.

We have continued to connect and engage people through art for over 40 years. The gallery team’s inspiration draws from a passion to share what art has brought to our lives. Our experience shines in how we work together to promote fantastic artists and preserve experiences. We stand out because of our longevity, commitment to promoting original artwork, involvement in local art and business communities, and dedication to the strong partnerships we forge with artists, clients, and the community.

OL Guild installations

Susan Watts and Mark Goodrich at Olson-Larsen Galleries

How would you use the FedEx Small Business Grant money to make a significant impact on your business?

Part of our mission is to always be innovating and bringing art to new audiences. A new mobile friendly website would bolster our online presence. We would increase our reach by utilizing new print and digital marketing channels. The gallery is part of a bustling Main Street community and we are housed in a 100-year-old building with many quirks. Leveling the floor and installing new carpet would help us better showcase our artists.

Now go vote!
(and tell your friends)

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