Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Barbara has created art since she was a child for her own amusement and enjoyment. In 1980, when her three children were grown, she began devoting most of her time to her artistic career. A fully self taught artist, Barbara has achieved an international reputation with a style that combines shimmering colors, a unique sense of design, and the artful skills of a storyteller.
Storytelling is at the heart of this former preschool teacher’s art and her very soul. Blessed with a fertile imagination that was nurtured early on by her Irish immigrant father, she grew up listening to his tales of mischievous fairies and leprechauns. Today she uses words as well as images to tell her stories on canvas and handmade paper. Using a variety of found objects, Barbara creates unique and colorful images: snips of paper, dabs of paint, scraps of fabric are transformed into whimsical mixed media collages. People who own and live with her delightful images talk about the good humor, the optimism, and the evocation of fond memories of childhood. Barbara’s gift is to touch the inner child of each of us.
Barbara’s original paintings and prints appear in many prominent private and public collections throughout the world; President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush, President and Mrs. Mikail Gorbachev, the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, the Mazza Museum of Children’s Book Illustration in Findlay, OH, University Hospital’s McDonald House, Cleveland, OH, and University of Chicago Children’s Emergency Ward, Chicago, IL, to name a few. Her work has been in magazines, books, on television, and in numerous newspaper articles. Featured articles about Barbara and her art work have appeared in Country Home, Americana, Style, Diablo, American Enterprise, Exit (Japan), and America Club (Hong Kong) magazines. One of her paintings, “Rosie The Riveter” depicting a woman working in an American defense factory during World War II, is in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL. A special proclamation from the Mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos, recognized her significant artistic achievements and declared October 25, 1991 as Barbara Olsen Day in San Francisco.
In 2002 Barbara’s illustrations for a children’s Halloween book, THE WITCH CASTS A SPELL, was published by Dial Books for Kids. She is currently working on illustrations for another book. Images of two of Barbara’s fine art paintings, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “I Have A Dream,” were included in the book IN THE SPIRIT OF MARTIN, the companion publication to the Smithsonian Institute major traveling exhibition celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2006 Barbara was awarded two Marianne Lambert Curator Awards for two of her paintings in the Spotlight on Art Show. Barbara was invited to participate in two additional shows of which Marianne Lambert is Curator at Swan Coach House Gallery in Atlanta. She has illustrations in many school textbooks published by Holt, Rinehart, Winston; Scott Foresman; Harcourt Publications, and MacMillan Education, Oxford, UK.