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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Gary Olsen, one of the Midwest's finest artists and a prize-winning media developer.

OLSEN, Gary. (Oak Park, IL- ). Recognized locally as one of the area's finest artists, Olsen has been regularly featured in the TELEGRAPH HERALD and for several seasons produced Christmas cards for DUBUQUE BANK AND TRUST COMPANY. His art included oil paintings of Dubuque area views and landmarks, sweeping cityscapes, and watercolors.

A graduate of the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE with majors in speech and communications, Olsen had no formal art training. He found many of his first brushes discarded by sign painters at Frank Hardie Advertising Inc. where he worked as a janitor during college. In the 1970s, the Dubuque Star Brewery Building was purchased by a Chicago brewmaster, Joseph PICKETT, Sr. Olsen was a radio announcer at KDTH when he got a call from Val Pickett, Joe’s son. This launched Olsen's career as a graphic artist. (1)

Olsen joined the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT as its Director of Web Development and Public Affairs after a successful career in corporate communications. At the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS, he produced the award winning company publication, Tracks. (2) Olsen worked in advertising and multimedia design for Frank Hardie Advertising and then for government contractor NCS (now NCS Pearson) helping federal and state government agencies design and build websites. Beginning in 2000 working in education, Gary programmed and managed a completely automated Cable Television Channel, Mediacom 19, which played in the greater Dubuque Tri-State market.

Kids in the Kitchen

Channel 19, the exclusive domain of the Dubuque Community School District, was launched as a cooperative venture between Dubuque Schools and Mediacom Cable. Programs originated in Dubuque schools and played statewide. Olsen produced the national award winning Kids in the Kitchen, and Garden Organic. He also developed a medical show for children called Doctor! Doctor! and a music education show called The Maestro and Me! In 2008 High School House, a show in which a dozen high school students and a professional contractor and interior designer build a $300,000 house, was in its third season. Olsen also produced Kids & Creatures, Reality Math, Designer's Club (a show about interior decorating), Mudd Puppies! and countless documentaries such as Dubuque, An All-America City.

Olsen won many awards for film making, documentary work, and graphic arts. Kids in the Kitchen, won the cable television industry's most prestigious award, the Beacon, for best series television show in its first year on the air. (3) The show was unique because the kids cooked on the show with nutritional ingredients they purchased in the store with the chef. In January 2008, Olsen and his cast for Kids in the Kitchen were producing their third season in the new kitchen set constructed in 2007 by Hy-Vee, the host sponsor of the show. The kitchen was a state-of-the art instructional cooking facility built to Olsen’s specifications. For two consecutive years, 2006 and 2007, Olsen was named among the top 41 best cable content providers in America by Cable Leaders in Learning, the cable industry's educational advocacy group based in Washington, DC. He is the official filmmaker for That's My Dog! training facilities. (4)


The Dubuque Rotary Club undertook at the beginning of 2000 to create scenic gateways for those who entered Dubuque. The concept called for "welcoming graphical demarcations" located in "the most picturesque sites along major thoroughfares" into the city. Rotarian Gary Olsen sketched some concepts of how exactly that could look: a large, impressive and utterly permanent historical marker built of native limestone, red brick and wrought iron, common building materials found in many of Dubuque's historic structures. "My objective was to create not a sign but a permanent landmark to our city designed and built to stand the test of time and be an iconic symbol of our city." Funds were raised and construction took place within a year of the project's launch. The $25,000 project established the first such marker on the southwest entrance to the city along Dubuque's Technology Park. (5)

In 2000 Olsen received the Silver Medal Award from the Dubuque chapter of the American Advertising Federation. (6) He was designated a "Cable Leader in Learning" in May, 2009 by Cable in the Classroom, a foundation funded by the cable industry which puts technology in the hands of teachers to improve learning. Gary received the award for his work on "The Garden Organic," a cable show he created with Dubuque Community Schools and Mediacom Cable. (7) The show chronicled the adventures of children as they grew their own food and prepared dishes right in the garden. "It narrows the intellectual gap between what grows from the earth and what ends up on their plates," explained Olsen. In addition to a $3,000 prize, he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where he was honored.

Dubuque's Stained Glass. Photo courtesy: "Gary Olsen's Studio," Online: http://www.garyolsen.com/news.html

In 1999, Bryce Parks and his brother commissioned Olsen to do a collage for a Millennium Ball they hosted at Five Flags. It was titled, Dubuque Twentieth Century. The following year Bryce Parks and Olsen created a print called "Dubuque’s Stained Glass," which raised money and awareness for the MARIA HOUSE shelter in Dubuque. (8)

Dubuque Main Street. Photo courtesy: "Gary Olsen's Studio," Online: http://www.garyolsen.com/news.html

Olsen has been involved in several one-man shows each of which was a virtual sell-out. His commissioned portraits, landscapes and "architecturals" are in many prestigious collections across the country. The latter are assemblages that layer bits of wire, mesh and objects in a deep frame. Each precise construction takes on the appearance of a " floating drawing." These abstract studies always include wire and mesh and often incorporate found objects, which are tangled up or wrapped neatly in the wire. The objects, which vary from fishing lures to dice to sticks, function on both a formal and symbolic level. Olson's work is in several corporate collections including Allied Insurance, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Hy-Vee, Inc., Farm Bureau Financial Services, and Zarley Law Firm in Des Moines as well as the collections of Iowa State University in Ames and LORAS COLLEGE. His work has been featured in one-person exhibitions at Central College and Buena Vista College and has been included in the Iowa Artists Exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center. (9)

Only a few of Olsen's works have been reproduced as limited edition prints. An edition typically numbers 500 signed and numbered pieces. He has prepared special remarque drawings and small painted vignettes on some prints. (10)

See: http://www.garyolsen.com/RoseLadyWeb/index.htm



1. Facebook entry. December 10, 2014

2. "Deere Makes Tracks," InfoWorld, September 14, 1987, Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=sTsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=Gary+Olsen+%28dubuque%29&source=bl&ots=ZCIKCasPTB&sig=hNSWCZm3t0QtGmPv1u51c8hOGvI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zuqEVPjtFIv5yATl6YKQBQ&ved=0CEQQ6AEwBzgU#v=onepage&q=Gary%20Olsen%20%28dubuque%29&f=false

3. "Gary Olsen's Studio," Online: http://www.garyolsen.com/news.html

4. Ibid.

5. "The Welcome Sign Project," The Rotary Club of Dubuque, Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/projects.cfm?projname=welcome

6. "Silver Medal Award." American Advertising Federation, Online: https://www.aafdubuque.com/en/american_advertising_awards/silver_medal_award/

7. "Gary Olsen's Studio."

8. Parks, Bryce. "Gary Olsen: There Are Places I Remember," Dubuque365, September 30, 2014, Online: http://dubuque365.com/ArticleDetailsPage/tabid/65/ArticleID/733/Gary-Olsen-There-Are-Places-I-Remember.aspx

9. "Gary Olsen," Olson-Larson Galleries. Online: http://www.olsonlarsen.com/en/artists/?albumID=3767&action=dspalbum

10. "Gary Olsen," Creative Touch Gallery, Online: http://www.creativetouchgallery.com/olsen.html