By Charlotte Schofield
Fitchburg State University’s Fine Arts professor Andrea S. Olmstead sees how art affects us in our everyday lives. “The shades of blue in the sky, the plants chosen for a garden, a shirt we buy, books we read, music we listen to, cars we like, the sports we play…it’s everywhere.”
Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, Olmstead was influenced by the southern landscape and its organically unique charm. “Rusty iron fences, brick sidewalks, tin roofs, and giant oak trees overwhelm the senses,” she describes when imagining the elements of her surroundings, “lush foliage is always on the verge of taking over, and everything quickly decays.” These elements make their way into Olmstead’s pieces whether, through the carved turtle shell patterns in a figure’s clothing, the red clay used in a majority of her sculptures that reminds her of the rich soil from her southern roots, and even the life-sized alligator in one sculpture brings to life her fierce inner characteristics.
Olmstead studied fine arts at Florida State University and received her Masters of Fine Arts in Sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, going on to become a full-time faculty member here at Fitchburg State University last year. Her work as an artist influences her as an educator, making it important for her to help students in courses like Ceramics, Intro to Studio Art and Life Drawing to find their own inspiration. “I find out what their interests are. If the student is interested in a sport, I get them to talk about what the sport means to them,” Olmstead said, “They might say words like camaraderie, exhaustion, competition, fitness, and challenge. Once they get interested in the subject, their subconscious takes over and they end up with artwork that they are proud of.”
Her passion for art shines through her figurative ceramic sculptures and drawings, with pieces published in Art Scope Magazine and the Taunton Gazette highlighting Olmstead’s focus on form and identity to bring her figures to life. “Massachusetts-based artist Andrea Olmstead’s sculptural portrait of her young son, ‘Turtle’, captures this vulnerability in the gentle curve of his back as he crouches on the ground to play […] the turtle-shell pattern engraved into the boy’s pants seemed to allude to the hardened armor that society requires boys to don,” stated the Taunton Gazette. This perhaps intentional design element can be seen by many as a metaphor, how some gender roles can physically restrict the people they affect causing them to retract from society.
“Conceptually my work has always centered around the idea of being vulnerable, especially young women coming of age. Like many females, that was a challenging time for me.” This vulnerability can be seen in pieces of Olmstead’s like “The Proposition”, a sculpture where a young woman sitting at the edge of a dock looks forlornly at an ever-encroaching alligator, the contrasting figures telling the story of personal insight for the artist during tough moments in her own life. The girl’s dress carved to splay picturesquely along the “wooden” dock she sits on represents an illusion of control, the alligator representing the danger she must face in order to transition into womanhood. “I have also found that the ferocity of the alligator is something I found in myself since becoming a mother, almost like I had to face the alligator in order to become it.” She says she draws inspiration for her work from the inner challenges she faced as a woman coming into her own, and the pressures from society that are placed onto females as they grow up.
While her accomplishments as a professional sculpture and artist have been major highlights in her life, Olmstead also takes pride in her work as a professor at Fitchburg State teaching students about aspects of fine arts. In her courses, she spends time talking to her student one on one about their personal interests, whether that’s sports, music, or photography, and helping them to shape their passions onto paper. “Once they get interested in the subject, their subconscious takes over and they end up with a work of art that they are proud of.” From more advanced courses like Life Drawing and 3D Design to intermediate, Olmstead works to help all students who are interested in creating art. “I really identify with the students here at FSU, and as a professor of fine art it’s my job to help students find their creative voice.”
Andrea Olmstead is an artist and professor that takes pride in helping her students find their artistic vision with challenging assignments, learning technical skills in the studio even if they are a little apprehensive. “I help them by teaching them a more advanced skill, providing books on the subject, showing them artists, and generally encouraging them to push boundaries.” As a professor Olmstead understands that not everyone comes to Studio Art or Ceramics with the same level of art skills, however, she makes a point to approach each assignment with fervor and excitement. When asked what her work as a professor means to her art she simply replied with, “Art makes life tolerable. We are all artists.”
To check out more sculptural and fine art pictures of Andrea Olmstead’s work please visit her website at www.andreascofieldolmstead.com.