Cheryl and Don Olney: Over the Rainbow

Cheryl and Don Olney: Over the Rainbow

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Cheryl and Don Olney have created a colorful, multicultural world in their booth at Paradise City Arts Festivals since 1998. Their unique work, with its folk art imagery and vivid hues, attracts enthusiastic buyers of all ages. Every piece is filled with joy. “I have a real reverence for human beings, and I feel like the work that we do is a way of touching people,” says Cheryl.

You and Don have had a rewarding creative partnership for many years. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. How did it all come about?
Neither of us really comes from an art background. I spent many years working as a social worker and Don, with his great mechanical skills, ran a business making wooden toys. We met in the hospital room of a mutual friend, and proceeded to fall in love when we reconnected at a small local craft fair a few months later. We have been pretty much inseparable ever since.

I love figurative folk art and was drawn to the work of Romare Beardon and Jonathan Green. I feel like I have a good eye for color and the human shape in a sort of abstract form. At that time I was making cut paper assemblages. Don liked some of the things I was creating and figured out how to turn my paper creations into laser cut wooden pieces. We worked together, developing new ideas, and eventually created a series of colorful wooden figures and other related artwork. We needed a name for our new enterprise. Louise was my mother. I am her daughter.

So began our collaborative business, “Louise’s Daughter”!

Your work isn’t easily categorized but can be described as both spirited and whimsical. Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Louise’s Daughter is still just the two of us, mixing both of our design skills, my eye for color and Don’s mechanical abilities. Our pieces start as a combination of hand drawings and computer drawings. They are eventually converted to graphic files that can be cut on our laser. Figures are broken down into component parts, laser cut, sanded, hand painted, and reassembled into colorful people and the world that surrounds them – sort of like a puzzle. We never know quite what to call our work. It is made of wood, but woodworking implies bowls, cutting boards, furniture. It’s really not about the wood, it’s about the imagery and the stories it tells, the feelings it evokes. Even when looking at our work from a few feet away, people are not sure what it’s made of – leather, metal? We have never seen any work that uses similar techniques. Other than thinking of ourselves as mixed media artists, we have no easy term that explains to people what we do.

You seem to derive great satisfaction from your lives as practicing artists. Have your inspirations and aspirations changed over the years?
We have been working together for a long time and are still addicted to making “cool stuff”. We find that art fairs like Paradise City allow us to meet people that really connect with our work. Over the years we have designed a lot of custom awards, gifts for donors and fundraising items for a wide variety of organizations. Churches, schools and other community organizations, like the United Way, have asked us to create original pieces, ranging in size from pins to large wall assemblages, to recognize achievements, donations, retirements and other significant milestones. You can view an example of a set of custom Balancing Acts that were used as conference gifts at https://vimeo.com/37088286

We have made things from 1 inch tall to 8 feet tall, and we are more than willing to entertain the idea of going bigger! And we love a challenge. When the Paradise City Arts Festival one year challenged exhibitors to create art that had to do with faces, we produced a mechanical piece that showed a couple kissing – once you moved a heart-shaped lever in the upper left-hand corner back and forth.

Our best work? Our son Casey is married to “the girl of our dreams”, and has given us three wonderful grandchildren. Every Wednesday we spend with the kids is always the best day of the week! We have a lot of fun providing art projects for them. The older ones have even designed and laser cut their own work!

Cheryl and Don Olney will arrive at Paradise City Marlborough and Paradise City Northampton with smiles on their faces, warmth in their hearts and wonderful wooden figures painted in every color of the rainbow. Be sure to stop by and say hello!