Kirsten Olson Sets the Table

by Eric Bennett

Sun Star Copy Editor

At the Museum of the North, a group of people sat down to have dinner. Everything they ate from or were served from, plates, platters, bowls, were ceramics. Each utensil was decorated with lines and markings, similar to that of ivory carvings. They were utilities. They were art. They were the thesis of Kirsten Olson.

Olson graduated from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, majoring in Anthropology and with a minor in Fine Arts. When she came to Alaska, she swapped her two subjects and is now working towards her Master of Fine Arts degree.

“Why can’t I be both?” she said, “Art feeds my thirst for exploring ways to see and experience the world.”

Olson’s thesis project, titled “Dining Out: An Artful Experience,” is a collection of bowls, plates and cups, all of which are intended to be, and have been used for dining. The theme for decorating the pieces was based on the story knives of Native Alaskan cultures. These knives, usually made of wood, bone or ivory, were a girl’s toy that was intended to draw pictures in the ground. In turn, her collection is decorated with the traditional lines and circles that Native art conveys.

“I’m trying to create ceramic ware in a way that people can interact with and use, but still have an artistic side,” Olson said, further mentioning that her signature style could be putting Yupik ideas into ceramics.

Before really getting into ceramics, Olson dabbled in painting in high school, but never felt satisfied with it. Eventually, she found her passion in creating useful things.

“I don’t mean to put down paintings,” she added.

Eventually, she moved on to jewelry and knitting and finally found her place in ceramics, which she has been working with for the last five years. Going back to her anthropology roots, she considers her creation of art to be her ritual.

“I really like the process,” she said, “Some students say I nerd out about the process.”

Her favorite way of firing her ceramic ware is by the use of a soda kiln, which uses sodium and requires direct involvement through the entire process.

Looking forward, Olson already has plans to move back to Pennsylvania and has studio and teaching jobs lined up for her.

Although she’s leaving, what she found here in Alaska will continue to inspire her.

“Where you are, the people you’re with, inspire the artist.”

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