Olson-Larsen Galleries Manager, Alyss Vernon recently visited and photographed Gary Olson's studio.Enjoy a glimpse into his world through her lens!

The beginnings of new work in progress.


When Gary delivered his latest batch of work to the gallery the week before THE ANIMAL SHOW opened, we were delighted to see a collection of creatures that one could imagine being characters from the same Tim Burton film. There were anthropomorphized birds, horses with unique accessories, rabbits with a message, and a distinctly angered fish meant to be suspended from the ceiling.

Young Rabbit with a Bronze Shoe,

Studio Shot Of Work In Progress


Gary has been involved with Olson-Larsen Galleries for nearly its entire history. In 1979, Marlene Olson and Ann Larsen took over Jan Shotwell’s gallery and Gary was there to lend his wife a hand with whatever needed to be done. He had a large role in installing the distinguishing wood ceiling that still remains in the main gallery today and garners commentary from guests weekly. The gallery exhibits what Gary describes as his “serious work”, framed compositions of small objects and wire seemingly suspended in compressed space between sheets of Plexiglas. 

Installation image from Gary's work exhibited in "New Work", October 2017 at Olson-Larsen Galleries

Installation detail from Gary's work exhibited in "New Work", October 2017 at Olson-Larsen Galleries


Although the “serious work” is thought provoking and successful, the sculptures Gary creates certainly speak to his innate sense of materiality. The care and appreciation he has for objects became even more apparent when I visited Gary’s studio about 30 minutes east from the gallery. Gary and Marlene live in the same house Gary grew up in. Past the main house, there is a garage, separate studio, and guesthouse where the O-L frame shop was housed until 2010 when it was moved to the gallery. In walking the grounds with Gary, it is evident that the Olson’s are both artists and master gardeners. There are sculptures and labeled plants strategically placed throughout. The day I was there, mulch was being collected, distributed, or burned from the vestiges of what used to be a Christmas tree farm on one side of the property. The trees that remain were left to grow larger than living room appropriate and no longer line up in tidy rows as they once did.

After showing me around, Gary and I put our masks on and went inside his studio. I enjoyed listening to him speak about each work in progress, where it started and where it might be headed– both literally and metaphorically. Everywhere I looked, I noticed a different item and I wondered what its fate might be. Re-purposing existing materials and giving them a different life seems to be a skill Gary has been practicing and will continue to practice for years to come.

We theorized about why artists make work, what they have to prove or what they need or want to express with their art. We agreed that being an artist is to be vulnerable; that artists often set out to overcome something. Like other artists, Gary vacillates between wanting to give viewers hints about the work and wanting them to come to their own conclusions. I believe he strikes a fine balance between the two and I can’t help but think that questioning his motives is what adds a little magic to these creatures.

THE ANIMAL SHOW is on view in the gallery through Small Business Weekend, the days following Thanksgiving. Come by to see Gary's sculptures and the rest of the animals in the show! We are open our normal business hours, masks required. Tuesday-Friday 11-5pm and Saturdays 11-4pm. Stop by or call 515.277.6734 or email info@olsonlarsen.com with questions. We're always happy to schedule appointments outside of those hours to suit your needs. Also catch us on Thursday nights for Jingle in the Junction. We will be open until 8pm on November 19, December 3, 10, and 17. A perfect time to explore Valley Junction to support small businesses and find that perfect holiday gift!



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120 5th Street, Suite C
West Des Moines, Iowa 50265
United States
120 5th Street, Suite C
West Des Moines, Iowa 50265
United States
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