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Bronwyn Olsen and her mother, Diana Jorgenson, share more than a close, trusting relationship. They have been making art together for their entire lives, as did Diana and her own mother. “My mother was my teacher,” Jorgenson said. “I spent most of my childhood drawing.”
The mother-daughter team of Olsen and Jorgenson will show their photography and crystal window hangings Sunday, May 29, at the Mohawk Valley Artists Guild’s annual Spring Arts and Craft Fair. The juried show runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Graeagle Fire Hall, on Highway 89.
Olsen’s specialty is true-to-life photography. Jorgenson is more eclectic in her art skills: “I’ve always done two – three types of art at one time.” Olsen commented, “She’s always changing, doing something different.”
“That’s what art is about,” replied Jorgenson. “Reinventing everything!”
Jorgenson’s gift of picture perfect drawing, perhaps the result of her ability to pay close attention to detail, transferred to her photography in college at the University of Minnesota College when she got her first camera. The camera went everywhere with Jorgenson for years, but she was also doing porcelain, oil and watercolor, wood inlay, Ukrainian eggs, bead-woven earrings, pen and ink, colored pencils, even dance. Oil was her favorite.
Olsen offered that oil is where her mother has done her best work. Sadly, her paintings have all been distributed, except for a few family treasures. Although oil painting was a gratifying practice, having a family motivated Jorgensen to switch back to her original art form, drawing — this time, with colored pencils. It was something she could do more readily alongside her children. “It’s fun having art that you can do with your kids. It’s play!”
The 1997 flood was the force that moved Jorgenson to take up crystal window hangings. During evacuation from her home, she lost a wealth of beading supplies. The idea of sorting through a thousand dollars’ worth of tiny muddy beads was heartbreaking. So she switched to bigger beads – crystals.
“Building up a large enough inventory of beads and crystals takes time.” But it paid off. In her current home, a curtain of crystal hangings sparkle across a window. Prismatic colors and warmth fill the room with gentle motion and otherworldly light.
The vertical shapes and patterns Jorgensen designs into her crystal window hangings have evolved over 14 years of practice. “As I continue on, I go less with the opaque beads. I really prefer to have the transparencies.” Jorgenson explained that there are sculptural aspects to the designs that she pays attention to as well as the light.
She described the emotional effect of her work with crystals. “It is so nice to get words out of my head! This is so visual. It’s just light, color and shapes. I don’t have to describe why it makes me happy. It just does!”
Jorgenson spoke of the time she spends creating the crystal hangings with the same joyous peacefulness Olsen evoked when she talked of her early days in the darkroom.
Olsen’s photography began early in childhood, when she would use her mother’s Brownie box camera to take pictures. This was part of their mother-daughter play. She took up photography more seriously when studying at Feather River College with Roxanne Valladao in 2002.
“She was a perfect teacher for me, to learn at my own pace, with my own projects.” Olsen found the darkroom magical. “I could spend all day in the darkroom.” There, she learned to see the density and contrast in the negative, and to watch in anticipation as a print emerged onto paper.
She repeated the course many times, making use of the equipment and improving her skills under Valladao’s direction. “I made every mistake possible.” That’s Olsen’s way to say she learned everything she could.
She wanted to do more with color, which digital cameras make possible. Taking classes with Lance Barker in digital photography, Olsen finally got her own camera in 2008, after she had solid know-how of what kind of camera she wanted to utilize. Barker taught her to use the manual controls so as to acquire the truest color of a subject. To this day, Olsen stays away from digital enhancement, wanting to record the beauty just as it is. She calls herself “picky,” saying, “It’s not OK to change the color, not for what I’m doing.”
“I am passionate about sharing Plumas County with people. The magnificent area, the beauty, the events, the people.” This is what motivates Olsen to present her work to the public. “Meeting people, they get excited and we tell each other places we’ve been to shoot.” Olsen is eager for her upcoming trip to the La Porte area with her mother. It will be a new scene for both of them.
Olsen makes calendars using her photos of Packer Lake. They are popular with visitors at Packer Lake who want to take home a memory of their vacation. Working at Packer Lake for 16 years now, she has come to know exactly when to seek out which flowers for photos. The selection of blooming flowers changes weekly. Olsen’s photos of Packer Lake can also be seen as cards and bookmarks, available at The Coffee Tree in Portola. Upon request, she will do enlargements of her work.
Jorgenson’s hanging crystals are sold at Good Vibrations in Chester and EcoCentric in Graeagle.
For Olsen, it’s not just about the photo. “When I’m not taking pictures, I still love seeing the same place again in different light, in a different season.” A family favorite and tradition is the annual rodeo in Taylorsville and the junior rodeo in Sierraville. The animals, the people, everything becomes a subject of interest.
Both of these women talk of “seeing” things many times, in many circumstances, in many lightings, and of taking pictures of those things many times. Jorgenson says, “You have to be patient enough to wait until the right moment.”
Photography does that to you, Jorgenson says. It makes you more “expectant.” “You are always looking for things that appear slightly differently than you’ve seen them before.
“You’ve got the lens; your finger is on the trigger. It’s about the moment. The moment is not going to happen again. Two days are never the same.”
If they run into a lot of other people taking pictures, Olsen’s mother assures her that there can’t be too many photographers shooting the same subject. “Two artists will see a subject very differently, it’s individual to you … it’s your vision … what you see.”
When Olsen is out with her own daughters, she actively points things out. “It’s good to see as much as you can.”
You can see these women’s work at the Mohawk Valley Artists Guild show on Sunday. The Guild is a nonprofit organization which generates cash for Plumas County schools to use for art supplies. It has hosted the selective show for 27 years. The entire proceeds of sales go home with the artists. This weekend’s show makes available for sale personally made art of exceptional quality, with artists on hand for conversation and tips. The show will include glasswork, jewelry, woodwork and furniture, photography, paintings, wool arts, cottage and designer crafts, goat-milk based products and much more — plenty for everyone to see.
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