May Day Celebration to Show Essential Worker Portraits and Worker Series

4th annual May Day labor rally April 27 at Duluth’s Labor Temple: History & Art

Recent years have seen a groundswell of labor activism and advances in the Twin Ports region, Minnesota, and beyond. Tapping the riches of labor history, engaging in creative expression to touch hearts and minds through the everyday realities of working people, and building broad empowered coalitions have all contributed to the recent advances in organized labor.

This year’s rally, with the theme of “Unearthing our History and Forging Our Future,” has endorsements from approximately 20 regional and statewide labor organizations, double last year’s support. Noted labor historian Peter Rachleff, an emeritus professor at Macalester College, will provide the keynote address.

Rachleff will tap his Duluth experiences and research to talk about past critical regional coalition building efforts that offer models, inspiration, and wisdom for forging labor’s future.

Rachleff was deeply involved in the mid-1980s Hormel strike and the mid-2000s Northwest Airlines mechanics strike, writing a book about the first struggle. An engaging storyteller, Rachleff has also researched how marginalized and oppressed groups have participated in and led the way in the labor movement. With his partner, Beth Cleary, Rachleff co-founded the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul in 2013, which is a treasure trove of Minnesota labor history. You can learn more about this project at

A new aspect of the rally this year will be a slide show art exhibit by Carolyn Olson, a narrative artist living in Duluth. Olson’s work will be projected throughout the gathering, focusing on essential workers and full-time workers who do not make a living wage. Many of these workplace realities have fed and are feeding into the recent groundswell of labor activism. In the midst of music, food, and rousing speeches, Olson’s art will graphically illustrate how struggle and dignity intertwine through labor, solidarity, and community building.

A retired K-12 art teacher, Olson’s style of gestural line, bold color, and full compositions reflect on our everyday life stories. Olson’s series of narrative portraits of essential workers during the COVID pandemic was inspired by family members. Olson visually retells the stories of essential workers who were asked to work unvaccinated, with low wages, a lack of affordable housing, and not being able to afford needed health care. Olson’s work can be seen at Lizzard’s Art Gallery in Duluth and online at

Pearl’s Garden

“Pearl and Sam loved spending their summer at the community center. Today James, the city’s gardener, was encouraging “turning lawns into gardens”. Limited participants. 

“We’ll deliver the soil, plants and seeds but you’ll first need adult permission,” he added.”
“Pearl was not discouraged. 

“Mom, can we grow a garden?” Pearl asked. “I’ll do all the work,” she promised.

“I don’t know. You know as kids we spent a good part of summer vacation in our family’s garden. It wasn’t always fun.”

“The city gardener thinks I can do this,” said Pearl. “I’d like to grow some lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and onions…plus a few other things.” 

“Well,” said Mom, “If you’re really committed you can give it a try.”

It’s happening! Minnesota Historical Society Press is working on page layout. “Pearl’s Garden”, a story of a family and a young girl’s urban garden will be out within the year.

Women’s Alliance – 1934 Truckers Strike

1934 Trucker’s Strike
Women’s Alliance Food Kitchen
Women’s Alliance Infirmary
Women’s Alliance Protest at Minneapolis City Hall Against Violence
19.5″ x 29″ pastel on paper

Link to pastel drawings

These three pastels will be included in art exhibition that relates to historic labor activism in diverse and meaningful ways. I’ve chosen to focus on the Women’s Alliance who supported the Local 574 by providing food for strikers and their families, an infirmary for needed rest and recovery from violence and the women protesting in front of Mpls City Hall against the violence.

Coinciding with the 90th anniversary of the important Minneapolis Truckers’ Strike of 1934 the exhibit explores the relationship of history to the present as well as workers’ role in social change. The artwork will connect a wide range of perspectives that relate to the strike. The exhibit will include banners, photographs, installations, drawings, paintings, tapestries and a video presentation.

The Minneapolis Strike was a watershed moment for the labor movement as well as for societal transformation. Workers organized to fight for their right to form a union despite strong opposition from the police, National Guard and the Citizens’ Alliance, an anti-union employers group. They fought for better life in the bloody struggle for workers’ rights—and they won. The settlement made Minneapolis a Union Town.

This exhibition will be held at the Cargill Gallery in the Minneapolis Central Library near where the strike events

The artists included in this exhibition include: Mike Alewitz, Rachel Breen, Keith Christensen, Olivia Levins Holden, Juxtaposition Arts youth, Mike Rivard, Brooks Turner and myself. I’m honored to participate with these strong voices in visual art. May our collective voice speak boldly to today’s need for social change.

Worker series

Gouache painting series depicting folks who work full time but do not make a living wage. Eventually eight from the series will be reproduced in linoleum block using three colors. Linoblocks are being etched by Tyler Scouton and linoblock prints will be completed by Warrior Printress. All very exciting!!

V Individual Artist Project Grant is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Collaboration Linoleum Block Project

Thrilled to announce a collaborative project with Tyler Scouton and Warrior Printress Letterpress & Design!

I am working on new series – gouache paintings and linoleum block cut prints – of workers who although work 40+ hours/week are still not making a living wage.

Thank you to the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council for their generous support.

“Friends in Blue” 7 1/2” x 10”. Gouache on paper.

Local Businesses and Places – New Series

With our return to public life, post 2020, its been a slow and careful process for me. Through this series I want to highlight local small businesses and places where shop owners and community have made it enjoyable and “safe” for me to visit.

“Family Outing” (Lizzard’s Gallery); “Coffee and Croissants” (Duluth’s Best Bread); “Lake Ave and Superior St./Lake Superior Fountain and Park”, Lake Superior Fountain by Ben Effinger; and “The Hair Cut” (Deep Cuts). All are 21″ x 29”, pastel on paper

Earth Day 2023

“Delivering Seedlings to Elders” 24″ x 40″ pastel on paper

Inspired by Fond du Lac Reservation’s Garden program, Gitigaan, supports food  sovereignty efforts and is rebuilding local food stores through community gardens and supporting band members with education, tools, equipment and labor to grow food.

Originally this pastel was drawn for the story “Pearl’s Garden”. As the storyline changed image remained relevant to me. The importance of growing our own food, supporting local growers and helping family will always be the best way to sustain our communities.

Whole Food Coop – Denfeld

Headed to a new home today! Whole Foods Coop – Denfeld has purchased this work for the community meeting room! Lizzard’s Art Gallery & Framing framed and helped with installation. Huge job! Beautiful framing as always!
I’ve always wanted to have my art in the Coop. Thrilled to see it headed there!
Community opening Feb 11, 4:00-5:00 PM. “Farmers Market” pastel on paper 4’x8’.

Eastside Freedom Library, Panel Discussion with Essential Workers, November 2022

Here is the link to the panel discussion discussion,

I am forever changed by this group discussion by essential workers who worked through the early days (and continue to work) of the Covid-19 pandemic, not knowing what it would do to the body, to families and our community. Their first hand stories aren’t easy to hear but necessary to keep us on top of the many problems facing workers everywhere. It’s not over and won’t be for awhile.

We must continue to raise our voices to advocate for everyone’s health as well as worker’s rights. A strong union is our best voice for the worker (wages, working conditions, health care). Covid-19 (and all its variations) is real and precautions must be taken to protect ourselves.

Get vaccinated, wear masks and distance ourselves. Protect each other. Be kind.

Eastside Freedom Library Exhibition/Zoom Chat Honoring Workers

The East Side Freedom Library exhibits ESSENTIAL WORKERS, an exhibit of visual art honoring Minnesota’s working people by Carolyn Olson with online artist conversation between Carolyn Olson and Keith Christensen.

“The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reconsider our culture’s awareness—and our personal awareness—of the workers who provide the services and goods which we depend upon to make our lives sustainable. Some workers, long disregarded, have been labeled “essential” and have been given new attention. Some have even received hazard pay (for a time) and new respect. But some have also spoken out about feeling “sacrificial,” and some have protested and even struck over their working conditions.

New awareness does not emerge spontaneously. Carolyn Sue Olson’s work opens our hearts and our minds through our eyes. Her work has been informed by a lifetime of painting and teaching art, a lifetime of building connections to community, and her care for her own children. Her daughter has worked in a grocery store during the pandemic, and her son has been a teacher. “Essential workers,” they have felt that complex combination of fear, on the one hand, and new recognition, on the other. These contradictory dynamics infuse the representations of workers in Carolyn’s portraits with both dignity and vulnerability. Looking at her paintings we can feel the energy.”