I am most fortunate to have a fascinating group of friends and acquaintances, many I will profile on my Monday posts. I always appreciate talent in any form whether it is a performer, a fantastic chef, an interior designer, an entrepreneur, obviously any fashion talent and, of course, artists. As I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, my Father was an artist concentrating on watercolors (just one area of his talent…much more on Ivon in a later post). Today’s personality is a multi-talented artist, both as a watercolorist and a world-renowned creator of fiber art, Michael Olszewski.
Michael came to Columbia College Chicago in 2010 when we met and became instant friends. His talent is limitless and his willingness to share his expertise and experiences with the students is admirable. As a Professor in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, his courses in the Fashion Studies discipline include Fabric Dying Techniques, Surface Embellishment and Fundamentals of Textiles. These courses cover a wide range of techniques such as Japanese Shibori, hand stitching, beading, applique and other Haute Couture embellishments. His mentoring of students is outstanding.
Michael has been an educator for 40 years and somehow balances his teaching and creative studio work. In a recent Columbia College Chicago article Michael is quoted as saying “My studio time is really critical to what I bring to the department at Columbia and to our students. I’m a practicing artist and designer and this significantly informs what I bring to the classroom”.
Michael’s CV is extraordinary not only as an educator but as an exhibiting artist. The Art Insitute of Chicago recently exhibited three of the four pieces which are now in their permanent collection. It was his first exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Montgomery Museum of Art, Museum of Art and Design, Muskegon Museum of Art and Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ireland. Another of his works was recently on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia! These are only a few locations that have found Michael’s creativity exciting and worthy of permanence in their collections. He continues to exhibit in group shows locally such as the Members Exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, which is celebrating it’s Centennial this Fall.
Fiber Piece Watercolor
Michael is an extremely private man, who has a wonderful sense of humor, for example, he never misses a Max Raabe performance at Symphony Center, he introduced me to Mr. Raabe and his Palast Orchestra…amazing and very tongue in cheek! I am honored that he has allowed me the opportunity to share a look inside his thought process along with answers to my questionnaire.
Fiber piece with written thoughts
When was your first impression of your talent?
In grade school and pursued it in junior high school.
When did you know you had “made it”, explain.
I don’t think of “it” that way. I’m always working toward new work, new outreach and what can help me move forward. But, after grad school, I moved to Philadelphia and was accepted into a co-op gallery and I felt that things were underway. Two years later I was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts award and this helped me to realize that what I was creating did speak to others and was recognized for it’s merits as art. Then the 3 Pa council awards, the Pew grant, etc….helped to confirm
How did your original passion bring you to where you are now?
Perseverance, focus, diligence, the moral support of close friends and the assistance of fellowships and grants.
Your favorite book/movie/theater…
All have changed over the years depending on my age and what I was going through at the time:
Books/Authors: In Cold Blood, A Christmas Memory…William Trevor, Patricia Highsmith, E.M. Forster, Henry James, John McGahern, Thomas Hardy, Annie Proulx, Willa Cather. Hermann Hesse.
Movies: A Single Man, Love is the Devil, The Long Day Closes, I Am Love, Brokeback Mountain, The Great Beauty, To Kill a Mockingbird, Never Let Me Go, Bill Cunningham NEW YORK
The Arts in Order: Dance both modern and ballet, Symphony, Legitimate Theater, Opera
Ballet/Choreographer: Pina Bauch, Martha Clark, Oscar Schlemmer, Pilobolus Dance
Type of Music, very eclectic: Everything from the Blues, Classical, Folk, World Beat, Portuguese Fado (a particular favorite) Favorite artists: BB King, George Gershwin, The Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, Cesaria Evora, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gabrial Faure, Phillip Glass…..etc.!
What are your hobbies?
None! My work, teaching, etc. occupies all the time.
Watercolor 4″ x 6″
What is your home like?
A mix of Mid-Century Modern, Chinese Antiques and the style of the Weiner Werkstatte.
What is your favorite vacation spot and where do you want to visit?
Ballycastle, Ireland, the area continues to be an enormous inspiration on my work; Coastal Maine, the landscape; Kyoto, Japan, the culture, art, and design; Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, the architecture, art and atmosphere; and London, England, culture. On the list to visit: Scandinavia (I haven’t been there), back to Scotland, England and Japan.
How would you like to be remembered?
As an artist who was a kind and generous man who recognized life is a gift and sought to be loyal to family, friends. and students.
“Handwriting is like drawing. It has a meditative quality that’s akin to the repetitive mark making that exists in stitching and embroidery. Color, texture and stitching are all used to create an atmosphere and sensibility that is evocative of a particular situation.”
Michael Olszewski ( Columbia College Chicago Interview by Jan-Henry Gray, May 10, 2016)
For more on Michael go to his website: www.michaelolszewski.com
And his YouTube video: Michael Olszewski Fiber Artist/Painter-YouTube