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PBS Newshour CANVAS May 19,2020 Written by Joshua Barajus …”Workers take every precaution to keep themselves and others safe from the coronavirus in Carolyn Olson’s pastel drawings. Farmworkers wear face masks and gloves while picking vegetables and fruits. A grocery store worker wipes down shopping carts with disinfectant. A janitor pushes a cleaning cart full of supplies past doctors and nurses at a hospital. Since March, the artist from Duluth, Minnesota, has been paying tribute to all kinds of workers deemed essential during the pandemic. For their sake, Olson wants the rest of us to do better. These same workers, unable to work from home, have to come into close contact with scores of people every day. And social distancing isn’t always an option, depending on the work site. In Olson’s first drawing in the series, a child, also wearing gloves and a mask, is within touching distance of a grocery store cashier. For months, labor advocates have raised alarms about the ways essential workers faceheightened risks because of exposure to the virus, but also from complications that could arise from low wages and lack of affordable health insurance. Olson, a recently retired public school teacher, said the series was inspired by conversations with her two children — one a grocery store cashier, the other a middle school music teacher — about how they are navigating the risks of exposure. Her son, the teacher, is able to stay home from school, but also works at a restaurant and bar as another source of income. That business plans on reopening in June. “As a parent, I’m just panicked about my kids and panicked about the neighbor’s kids. That’s no way to live,” she told the PBS NewsHour. That anxiety helped fuel her desire to capture workers’ stories, heard from family and friends or the news. There are so many stories that Olson, a longtime painter, turned into pastels, partly because she’s able to produce more images more quickly than if she were working with oil or gouache….”
Star Tribune May 12, 2020 Written by Richard Chin “….The Historical Society also recently purchased a pastel drawing by Duluth artist Carolyn Sue Olson depicting a scene in a grocery store in which everyone is wearing masks and gloves. In a description on the Historical Society’s History Is Now website, Olson said the drawing was inspired by her daughter’s job as a grocery store cashier in the Twin Cities. It’s the first in a series of pieces Olson is creating called “Essential Workers,” depicting bus drivers, mail carriers, doctors, nurses, janitors, farm workers and trash collectors on the job during the pandemic. The image of people wearing masks to perform an everyday task “was such a profound piece,” said Historical Society art curator Brian Szott, who said he could envision the drawing being used in a history book years from now. “This is an image that suddenly has entered our consciousness,” he said.”…
Perfect Duluth Day Written by Brian Barber Carolyn Olson(featured previously in Selective Focus) has been redirecting her work a bit. Still focused on everyday scenes, she has been making drawings in a series she’s calling Essential Workers. These scenes are in grocery stores, public transit, street scenes and in medical facilities. This week, Carolyn talks about honoring these people who keep things going in unprecedented circumstances.
Some giclee scans and prints were made possible through the “Emergency Working Artist Project Grant” provided through the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. ARAC’s funding is derived from appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s general fund and Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (Legacy Amendment) as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota.