Friday, May 7, 2010

CURATORS ESSAY: Olga Lawson at Red Mill Gallery in Johnson

Olga Lawson’s exhibit will be at the Red Mill Gallery in Johnson, Vermont from Friday, May 7 through Saturday, May 15.

By Sam Thurston

Olga Lawson is 94 and now lives in the Manor Nursing home in Morrisville. She was born and grew up on a farm in Eden Mills, Vermont. Upon her marriage her father gave the young couple a farm of their own, also in Eden Mills. Later she farmed in Cabot.

I met Olga Lawson at Out and About, an adult and elderly day facility in Morrisville that at that time had many artists on its staff, including Lois Eby, Peter Gallo, Melinda White and Shelly Warren. Olga Lawson said she knew art would be included at Out and About before she went there. She had liked art and done a lot of it, including maps, in her school years, but none since she had left in about the 8th grade to work on her family farm.

She stopped going to Out and About over ten years ago. I always liked her work and have tried over the years to place it in galleries but to no success except once in the Morrisville restaurant Bee’s Knees. But now she is having a Renaissance of sorts with this show at the Red Mill, three works at the Kellog-Hubbard Library in Montpelier and, opening in May, three works in the Route 58 Gallery in Lowell, Vermont.

Some of my observations on Olga Lawson’s work:

  • Olga Lawson’s works all depict rural Vermont.
  • She has a good idea before she begins. When I visited her this month she talked of a picture she had in mind of a woodpecker on a log she wanted to do. (She does not do as much any more).
  • She sees and depicts pattern more than form. This is especially noticeable in her paintings of the winter, where the black and white world naturally becomes flat and resists ‘form’.
  • Sometime she depicts the world of her childhood – sugaring with sleds and buckets for example – and sometimes the modern world – sugaring with plastic tubing for example.
  • I think of her as a Folk Artist, not an Outsider Artist. Sometimes ‘outsider’ refers to ‘outside tradition’ and in that case she may be considered an Outsider Artist, but to a greater extent ‘outsider’ refers to outside society and Lawson is not that. Darger with his Vivian girls is outside society but with Lawson you see a landscape that is within your world not outside it. Folk is a good word to use – like a folk ballad.
  • She likes birds so they appear in most of her works.
  • You can see the part of Eden Mills she grew up in although it is so changed you will find it hard to imagine a farm there. It is on the Long Trail right by Devil’s Gulch In Eden Mills. The place now looks like a scene from one of Hawthorne’s early stories.
There will be a closing at the Red Mill gallery on Saturday May 15 starting at 6:45, just after dinner at the Vermont Studio Center. Olga will probably not be there but come and say hello to other people who have her work or knew her.

The Red Mill Gallery is connected to the Main building of the Vermont Studio Center, which is on the North side of the bridge under construction in Johnson. There is a small parking lot.

Image: Trees and Hills From Back Porch