Three panels: the center panel may be a self-portrait of the artist with a brush in her hand; images to the right and left are of women modeling robes with horizontal stripes.

A Body of Work: A Retrospective Look at Patricia Olson's Art

West Gallery
April 13, 2019
May 26, 2019
Professor Emerita Patricia Olson

Saturday, April 13, 6-8 p.m.

Artist Talk: Thursday, May 2, 7 p.m.

Paintings, prints and other artwork by Professor Emerita Patricia Olson highlight her interest in the figure as a conveyor of meaning throughout her career.

All exhibitions and events are free and open to the public.


Patricia Olson was born in south Minneapolis, and earned a B.A. in studio art at Macalester College (1973) in St. Paul, where she studied with painter Jerry Rudquist. She received an M.F.A. in Visual Studies from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (1998). She is a founding member of WARM, the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (1975).

For over twenty years (1975–1998), Olson operated a graphic design company, the Cats Pajamas Inc. She designed everything from business cards to billboards for clients in the arts, communications, government and politics. She has also had a simultaneous career as a fine artist, exploring printmaking, book arts, video, installation and painting.

Recent exhibitions include The House We Built: Feminist Art Then and Now at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota (2013). Her work was featured in WARM: 12 Artists of the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota, at the Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota (2007). This retrospective look at women artists of the WARM collective was complemented by a comprehensive book, WARM: A Feminist Art Collective in Minnesota, distributed by University of Minnesota Press. Her war memorial and protest piece, Operation Mopping Up, was selected for the 2DII Biennial at the Minnesota Museum of American Art where it was subsequently purchased for the permanent collection. In 1999, she received a Visual Arts Travel and Study Grant from the Jerome, General Mills and Dayton Hudson Foundations to travel to Pompeii, Italy, to view the ancient Roman fresco at the Villa of the Mysteries, the inspiration for her series of paintings, The Mysteries.

Olson is a Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University, having taught in the Department of Art and Art History since 1997. She held the Sister Mona Riley Endowed Professorship in the Humanities at St. Catherine from 2008–2011, during which she produced The Catherine Portrait series. She currently teaches and directs the Women’s Art Institute, a summer studio intensive course for advanced women artists. In 2009, she was honored as a Changemaker with Elizabeth Erickson by the Minnesota Women's Press for their work with the Women's Art Institute. Olson is currently a member of Form+Content Gallery in Minneapolis.


To present a retrospective of my work is simultaneously exciting and humbling. It’s a chance to assess if 40 years of producing images coheres into a body of work.

In the 1970s I made prints that appropriated images of women from fashion magazines, culminating in an artist’s book critiquing that scene using a strategy from medieval times. As a founding member of the women’s gallery collective WARM, I looked for inspiration as a woman artist and designer and found it in the artist Sonia Delaunay. As I moved from printing into painting, the European tradition of the human figure proved both fascinating and daunting, so I sidled up to it by painting images of clothes and accessories. I finally grappled with the figure using vintage photos of my family. In The Mysteries series I embraced the figure at full scale, painting self-portraits to portray a woman at mid-life to bring an ancient Roman ritual into contemporary discourse. I took the plunge into the magic of portraiture, and I’m grateful for the confidence of my colleagues and students at St. Catherine University to portray 40 of them in The Catherine Portrait.

Throughout, I’ve investigated myths of all kinds: the beauty myth, ancient Roman myths, Biblical stories, fairy tales and Western culture’s art historical myths. I am in dialogue with art history to portray women especially as powerful and significant. Since the body is something we all know intimately, my viewers all have a great store of critical knowledge when looking at my work. Finally I hope, as we all do, for connection.