Barbara Olsen


Artist Biography:

Born in Oakland, California, in 1935, Barbara Olsen is a self-taught artist who only began painting in 1980 after her 3 children had all grown up. She has achieved her international reputation through a naive style which combines shimmering colours, original materials and the artful skill of a storyteller. Storytelling is at the heart of this former pre-school teacher’s art and Barbara Olsen believes that it was her Irish father’s stories of fairies and leprechauns which nurtured her imagination, whilst it was her daughter who encouraged her to follow her dream to become a unique artist. Her inspiration comes from early primitive art, textiles, textures and sayings. Barbara Olsen established herself through her illustrations of fond childhood tales, Bible stories and the pioneering lives of American heroines. Recently she has incorporated a collection of materials from everyday life into her work, giving it an added texture which compliments the vibrancy of the colour and subject matter. Wool, buttons, and scraps of fabric each help to create a whimsical mixed media collage. In 1992, Barbara Olsen and her husband moved to an historical farmhouse in Ohio, whose two rural acres offer her the freedom to explore her imagination. It is here that the couple work with their youngest son and his family; painting, framing and shipping Barbara’s artwork to galleries and museum shops. The prints and original paintings of this artful historian appear in many private and public collections around the world. Barbara Olsen remains undaunted by the demand for her work and is always eager for another story to tell. Barbara Olsen’s original paintings and prints appear in many prominent private and public collections throughout the world, including those of President and Mrs Ronald Reagan, President and Mrs George H W Bush, President and Mrs Mikhail Gorbachev and the Mazza Museum of Children’s Book Illustration. 21 October 1991 was declared “Barbara Olsen Day” in San Francisco as a result of a special proclamation from the Mayor of San Francisco, recognising her significant artistic achievements. In 2002, Barbara Olsen’s illustrations for the children’s Halloween book, The Witch Casts a Spell, was published in the United States and she is now working on illustrations for other books.

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