Abstract Artist Mary Olson Tackles Painting, Weaving, and More

Abstract artist Mary Olson paints, weaves, prints and designs.
Minnetonka artist Mary Olson often combines screenprinting and painting in her abstract work.

For Mary Olson, art doesn’t end when the painting is done.

Olson works at her Minnetonka home studio, only a bike ride away from the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Every wall and corner of the studio is covered with different forms of her art: full-sized abstract canvases on the walls, bright woven rugs in every room and screenprinted throw pillows on the couch. Olson prefers the freedom of her home studio, with its quiet serenity, to a more traditional studio. “It’s kind of my dream, really,” she says. “It’s peaceful, there’s nature, and I’ve got places for all of my books and sketchbooks and equipment. It’s kind of my little refuge.”

Her paintings are vivid, streaked with bright colors and, upon closer look, veined with textured networks of geometric shapes and lines. This two-layered approach has won Olson accolades —in 2014, her piece Density won both the People’s Choice and the Technical Merit awards from the Hopkins Center for the Arts. “It was one of the first pieces I did where I combined the screenprinting with the painting on the canvas,” Olson says. “It gave it kind of a new dimension and a depth that made me really excited … I’m really fascinated with buildings and architecture—I’m fascinated by the fact that so many people can be crammed into such small spaces in urban settings.”

The interplay between urban and natural settings is one of the biggest influences on Olson’s artwork. Born in rural Waconia, she moved to St. Paul with her family at age 5. “That was really different, a really huge contrast,” she says. “I remember when I was really young in Waconia, there would be these crazy storms that would roll through. It was always scary but really beautiful, and those images—the farm fields and barns falling down—have always really resonated with me. Then I moved to the city, and those contrasts are in my work, because I’m also attracted to the energy of being downtown.”

She credits the art program at Roseville High School with sparking her passion for painting and, later, weaving. It led her into an arts program at the University of Minnesota, where she continued to explore different mediums. In 2004, Olson, now 34, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in art, specifically painting and visual communication. “I feel very driven to execute all the things I visualize,” she says. “A lot of things inspire that. Memories, dreams and everyday life; documenting what I see or imagine and getting it on a canvas is really my driving force.”

Olson’s talents do indeed stretch far beyond the canvas. A front room in her house is dominated by a traditional wooden loom, and a space in her basement serves as a studio for screenprinting. She says the change of pace between mediums refreshes her artistic drive. “I often weave if I get kind of burned out from painting. If I’m getting ready for a show, I might only be painting for three or four days, so it’s nice to take a break and go weave and do something completely different.”

One of the places you can find Olson’s work is at the Golden Rule Collective in downtown Excelsior, owned by Erin Kate Duininck. “I learned about [Duininck’s original] shop in her backyard, so I checked it out, and it was the coolest thing ever—this amazing scenic place on a lake with her gallery and all her jewelry,” Olson remembers. “I asked if I could have some of my textiles in her shop, and now that’s kind of blown up into the Golden Rule. That was really cool to see unfold over the last few years. I think a lot of what drives creative people around here would be the sense of peace and nature of the lakes.”

In addition to several other venues, Olson’s artwork has been most recently on display at Showroom, a fashion boutique collective in Uptown. “It got me really excited about translating my work into fashion and clothing, and being able to talk with people who sew and design,” she says. “That was hugely beneficial for me.” Olson is now experimenting with applying her intricate designs to clothing and fabric—and looking toward the next adventure.

Learn more about Mary Olson’s artwork and get information about upcoming shows and exhibits at her website here.