Barbara Olsen has been a professional painter and collage artist for more than twenty years. Prior to that, she worked as a nursery school teacher and created paintings and other art pieces as gifts for friends and for her personal enjoyment. In 1980, an owner of an art gallery in northern California saw one of Olsen's paintings and invited her to exhibit her work at the gallery. Since then, she has participated in more than eighty group and solo shows. Her work has been published in magazines as far away as Japan and China and has been collected by presidents, including the former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev.
Olsen told SATA that her art is often inspired by the past. Her early work, in particular, she wrote, represented an attempt to convey "stories about early women's lives." Olsen was interested in quilts and other needlework, which eventually found its way into her own art. Now she creates mixed-media pieces and especially enjoys collage. She commented: "It's as if I've returned to my childhood where cutting paper dolls was my main means of entertainment. I now search for the right paper to cut or tear to place into the story I am trying to tell."
Olsen's emphasis on color and texture can be seen in her first illustrated children's book, The Witch Casts a Spell, where her pictures animate a Halloween rhyming story created by Suzanne Williams, a story which can be sung to the music of "The Farmer in the Dell." Olsen depicts a frolicsome Halloween party of ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires, using the same type of mixed-media images and folk-art style that are featured in her formal paintings. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the artwork "imaginative," pointing to the details and doodles that flesh out the characters of the ghostly partygoers and the creative party foods that "include literal finger foods" in the shape of actual digits. Her goal, Olsen commented, is "to touch the child in all."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Americana, March-April, 1987, Susan Ferraro, "Inspired by Quilts and Samplers," p. 53.
Booklist, September 1, 2002, Diane Foote, review of The Witch Casts a Spell, p. 141.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of The Witch Casts a Spell, p. 890.
Barbara Olsen Home Page, http://www.barbaraolsen.com/ (March 3, 2004).
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - CareerBarbara Olsen Biography - Career, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Honors Awards, ILLUSTRATOR:, Work in Progress