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Thinking About Commissioning Original Artwork? Don’t Be Scared!

Posted on 08/25/2021 at 2:30 PM

There is a wall in your home or office that is in desperate need of artwork. You come into the gallery with a general idea of what you might like. We show you lots of options and you end up falling for the style of one artist in particular, but the colors and size of what we have aren’t quite right.

Prints to choose from
Results of initial commission for client to choose from

A similar scenario unfolded late last year when a client visited the gallery with a spot on her living room wall in mind that needed something special. We happened to have one of Laura Berman’s “Gem L” series monoprints out and the client had an immediate response to the shapes of color and beautiful transparent layering. But it needed to be slightly larger and for her space, the colors needed to be richer and more saturated. So, what’s the next move? We offered the often-dreaded word… COMMISSION. Commissioning original artwork isn’t scary, we promise!

Our commission process is actually straightforward…and painless! In this case, the hardest part of choosing the type of artwork and artist was already done! We knew that Laura Berman would be excited to work on another commission for a client of ours, as she completed a commissioned series of “Starburst” prints last summer that turned out amazing. 

Color test strips
Custom mixed ink test samples

Once a size was determined and we received more direction on colors, Laura worked on a plan for printing remotely with Pele Prints. Laura is based in the Kansas City area and Pele Prints is located in St. Louis. Since this project started in early 2021 with COVID-19 restrictions still in place and Laura was juggling teaching responsibilities and other projects, printing in person, as Laura normally would do, wasn’t feasible. A process challenged by distance was made easier as Laura had already been printing with Amanda Verbeck at Pele for several years. Read more about how Laura mapped out specifications for executing the prints on Laura's blog

Printing process image
Process images from the print studio to Laura during the collaboration process

Throughout the process, Laura sent us progress images for us to pass along to the client. Laura ended up printing (through Amanda at Pele) six prints to choose from. When we sent all of the final options to the client, she was unsure of the colors and was having trouble visualizing them in her space. Usually we would pack an unframed print in a portfolio, drive over to the client’s home, put on white gloves, and hold it up for them to see in person. That wasn’t an option this time. So we did the next best thing– Photoshop images of each print onto a photo of the client’s wall. That simple fix did the trick and the client was able to immediately choose her favorite. She loved them so much that she ended up choosing a second print in the series that would go in her office. 

Mock-up image and final installation image
Left: the Photoshopped mock-up           Right: final commissioned print installed

A few takeaways:

  • We are here to help through every step in the process.
  • You get exactly what you want.
  • Commissions aren’t scary.

Show us your empty walls. We want to help you fill them up with artwork you love! See more of Laura’s work here.


Summer Interns Curate Exhibition

Posted on 08/11/2021 at 3:17 PM

We have had the pleasure of having two very bright and talented college student interns this summer. Daphne and Briana rose to every challenge we threw at them and gracefully rolled with the sometimes unexpected, often shifting priorities at the gallery. Susan and I tasked them with curating an exhibition from our extensive inventory. Planning and executing an exhibition from start to finish is no light task, even for a seasoned professional. They learned about our stable of artists, collaborated on a theme, and the results are superb! Below Daphne and Briana go into more detail about their experience and specific insights.

This summer we learned all about Olson-Larsen and the process of curating an exhibition. In the beginning, we planned on only organizing our exhibition for online viewing. However, it turned out that the O-L Living Room, next door to the main gallery was going to be between shows during our exhibition time, and Alyss had the brilliant idea to let us present some of our show in person!

Daphne and Briana get familiar with Gallery inventory
Daphne (left) and Briana (right) get familiar with the gallery's inventory

When thinking of themes for our show, we knew we wanted to incorporate colorful artwork representing an array styles and media. Looking through the Olson-Larsen inventory led us to the idea of focusing on nostalgia and the overlap between the past and the present. After considering the world “Nostalgia”, we ended up settling on “Then and Now” as the title of the show. 

To us, “Then and Now” evokes both the feelings of how our past informs our future, and how our present changes our perception of the past. Many of the artists featured in the exhibit described their work as deriving from past personal and collective experiences. Other works in the show are made from fragments of the past or are made to imitate the passage of time. 

Installation image
"Then and Now" installed in the O-L Living Room, next door to the main gallery.

The online exhibition features an online only component that examines 6 works by highlighted artists not featured in either the online or in-person exhibition. We chose to go in depth with a few pieces we felt fully encapsulated the idea of “Then and Now.”

This blog post is acting as another opportunity to examine artists and pieces in a more personal way. We believe that reminiscences, nostalgia, and reflections can be simultaneously collective and personal experiences. 

In that spirit, both of us will discuss our backgrounds and how they individually relate to the exhibition theme and the featured artists.  

Installing the show
Installation day– measure twice, hang once, level up.


My name is Daphne Knoop and I am an art history major at Vassar College. Though I am only approaching my second year of school, I already feel connected to the college. College has allowed me to create new memories, reflect on past experiences, and feel empowered to change the future. As I am transitioning from old to new, I am trying to appreciate all the phases of life. The experiences of my childhood have become memories; they have transitioned to the “Then”. 

Paula Kraemer, "An Ode" print
Paula Schuette Kraemer, "An Ode", Drypoint, softground etching, monotype, and intaglio, 22x26 inches

While searching for artwork for the show, I was struck by Paula Schuette Kraemer’s work. Her prints are inspired by the beauty found in simple things. She reflects on moments that many people hold dear. I was immediately pulled in by her imagery. Her artwork evokes the same feelings memories do. Kraemer is also a Vassar graduate who majored in art history. We are two people unknown to each other, but in multiple ways our pasts and present have intertwined. While Kraemer’s artwork is based on her own experiences, it also brings back fond memories of mine. We have never met, but we most likely share memories of the same classes. To me this speaks to the power of time and shared experience.


My name is Briana Jo Agan Borchert and I am going into my fourth, and final, year at Wartburg College where I major in both Graphic Design and Studio Art. With my final year approaching, I have been revisiting my past memories of high school and college. I have changed greatly in a relatively short amount of time. Within this time of transition and change in my life, I cannot help but reflect on where my past experiences have brought me, and ponder where my continued experiences will take me. While I am excited for the future, I must remind myself to be grateful for the then, and the now, as they will be what carries me through.

I was familiar with Barbara Fedeler’s artwork before coming to intern at Olson-Larsen, as she happens to be one of my professors at Wartburg, and my friend. Her work, and the inspiration behind it, fully encompasses the idea of “Then and Now.” Fedeler is known to return to the places she has captured in her artwork again and again to observe changes that have occurred, whether they be from weather, or human intervention. The inspiration for some of her pieces comes from the idea that the land is both permanent and ever changing. There is permanence in the idea that time itself will always be moving forward, and that our future will always be a direct result of our past.

Barbara Fedeler, "Effigy Mounds" charcoal on paper
Barbara Fedeler, "Effigy Mounds-February", charcoal on paper, 17x48 inches

Viewers of “Then and Now” will bring their own ideas and experiences to the artwork. As humans, we rarely focus on the present. Instead, we are distracted by memories of the past and our hopes for the future. The artwork in this exhibition encourages us to look at the intertwining of the past, present, and future, not their separation. Time and memory are ever-changing because of our evolving perceptions; In that way, the past and future go hand in hand.  The past, present, and future are all at work in our lives and the artwork presented. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”

Daphne and Briana

We are so grateful to Daphne and Briana for helping us out this summer and bringing extra joy to the gallery! We wish you the best in college and beyond.

To view the virtual exhibition on Artsy, click HERE.
Or come by the gallery to see the work installed at the O-L Living Room before September 3rd. 



Looking Local: Surety Hotel emphasizes collaboration in artwork selections

Posted on 05/12/2021 at 12:46 PM

Olson-Larsen Galleries Owner, Susan Watts reflects on what became a yearlong project that played a role in helping the gallery weather the COVID-19 storm.

Surety Hotel guest room
Photo ©Daniel Kelleghan, courtesy of DLR Group

Customizing artwork and framing for our clients is what we love to do. Really. We love it. The projects that truly get us thinking are the most rewarding.  

When we received an email from Aparium and DLR Group in August 2019 about the Surety Hotel slated for the historic Hippee building in downtown Des Moines, we knew it would be one of those projects. They emphasized working with local galleries and featuring original artwork. They demonstrated the gusto and elbow grease it takes to revitalize an old building. After a few conversations, it was clear there was an alignment of priorities, aesthetics, and interest in a purposeful integration of artwork into the environment. Exactly what we love.

Collaborating on a project – especially a large-scale project – is the best part. I love imagining a space while looking at floor plans and finishes. Then thinking through lists of artists and how their work would enhance each space, either as a subtle complement or a bold contrast. I love thinking about the message the client is trying to send and how we can help them communicate it with artwork.

Installing artwork in Surety Hotel guest rooms
Mark installing artwork in one of the 138 guest rooms.

Mark, Alyss, and I brainstormed. And brainstormed. We had exciting conversations with artists. More brainstorming. Alyss and I then gathered and organized images and text, which translated into pages of ideas for each location identified for artwork. We sent off what ended up being a quite large, content-rich PDF and crossed our fingers. 

The next communication from Aparium and DLR Group came in December 2019. Upon opening that much-anticipated email, we were thrilled to see that they had selected high quality reproductions of prints by the late, beloved Iowa artist Peter Feldstein to be placed in each of the guest rooms. For select public areas, the Aparium/DLR Group team commissioned two works by local artist Julia Franklin and chose sculptures by Aaron Tinder, professor at Grandview University. In the Presidential Suite, we placed works by Ames artist Barbara Walton, local photographer, Molly Wood, and the late Ames-based painter, Stephen Metcalf.

Commissioned artwork by Julia Franklin installed in the Surety Hotel Lobby
Photo ©Daniel Kelleghan, courtesy of DLR Group. Commissioned artwork by Julia Franklin incorporating historic documents from the building's past life, housing Iowa Loan & Trust Company.

Commissioned artwork by Julia Franklin in Surety Hotel conference room
Commissioned artwork by Julia Franklin installed in one of the conference rooms featuring local soil and various flora.

Sure, the details on a project as grand as this can get a bit overwhelming. But I was extra thankful to have those details to work on in 2020. Thankful for the fortitude and foresight of those leading this hotel that they could keep it going through what was quite possibly the worst-case scenario.

How exciting it was to get into the building last October!  And to meet our contacts at Aparium and DLR Group —Staci Patton and Andrew Connorton— after myriad phone calls, emails, texts. It was exhilarating to see those gorgeous touches that had been added to enhance this restored gem. 

Congratulations to Aparium, DLR Group, and all those involved with Surety Hotel. I’m sure they know it’s incredible, but to receive international accolades has to be the icing on the cake. 

Sculptures by Aaron Tinder installed at Surety Jotel
Installing sculptures by local artist, Aaron Tinder

Even though ours was a small part in the grand scheme of things, I like to think that we have something to do with making the Surety special. I’m proud of our artists, how they’re represented, and so proud of my gallery team for working incredibly hard on every last detail.  

Learn more about Surety Hotel and their other collaborations with local artisans HERE.
Also stay up to date on their community-engaged events on their social media.


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