By Walter Sanders
We can find Inner Italians almost anywhere. And so it was that we encountered artist Chuck Olson’s Italian connection in Old City Philadelphia at the opening of his most recent exhibit at the Rosenfeld Gallery.
Sharon’s alma mater St. Francis University in Loretto, PA, hosted the event for Olson, 56, who is Chair of the school’s Fine Arts Department. He has been teaching there since 1976.
Look at Chuck Olson and you see a confident, polished and worldly gentleman. Yet, until he was 29, he had never traveled further from his western Pennsylvania home than Youngstown, Ohio. To polish his pronunciation skills of French artists and authors, he took an elementary French language class, then an additional 27 credits in French. “Studying a foreign language helped me understand and appreciate the power of a new cultural dynamic,” Olson said.
He met Marie, a French woman, in the United States and in 1987 they married. Marie shared her roots in western France with Chuck, and eventually, their two children. Every summer, the family rented a French farmhouse. “We prefer really experiencing a place, rather than collecting destinations.”
In 2006, Olson was given the opportunity to direct the Springtime in Italy arts program in Parma. “I took a risk. Many people in their 50s tend to withdraw but I jumped at the chance. Initially I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know a soul in Parma, but the journey has been amazing. After three years, I can stroll into the Mayor’s office after a warm welcome by his security people and discuss our programs,” Olson said.
“Italy was a different experience for me . . . the light, the foliage, the language. The food was different, even the bread. The people were more open and sharing. That helped me shape my teaching philosophy. My students’ experiences won’t be limited by lack of imagination. So I encourage them to travel on the weekends, participating in and sharing every cultural difference they can. The students come away with experiences that are legitimately their own.”
Italy has been fertile ground for Olson to develop interpersonal relationships. “I enjoy making connections between good people. Many of these relationships blossom, and a few whither on the vine.” It is the magic of Italy that inspires people to connect with others.
To view more of Olson’s acrylic paintings, visit The Rosenfeld Gallery.