Plein Air Painting Julien Dubuque Monument Overlooking the Mississippi River

This is one of most picturesque spots along the Mississippi River bluffs at Dubuque, Iowa. Just south of the city and the junction of the river and Catfish Creek is a high bluff upon which sits Julien Dubuque's Monument. It was built to mark the final resting place of the French Canadian who boldly crossed the river between Illinois and the Iowa territory, befriended the Maskwaki Indians that lived there and asked permission to mine the lead that was found among the limestone outcroppings, caves, and from hand-shoveled holes in the ground, many of which can still be seen in the area today. The year he arrived was 1796.

In those days lead was in serious demand for the crafting of shot. Legend has it Dubuque took a wife from the tribe. Her name was Potosa. Imagine my shock when I discovered what was labeled "Potosa's Skull and Bones" in a drawer of an antique oak bookcase I purchased from the Dubuque Historical Society in 1973.

The bookcase was among a basement full of old furniture, moth-eaten taxidermy specimens and in particular Indian artifacts belonging to the Dubuque Historical Society. The basement was in the historic Ham House, itself a museum near Eagle Point Park. Many of the Indian artifacts I saw were from the defunct Herman Museum the Society had acquired. My wife, Linda, and I were Historical Society members at the time.

I carefully removed Potosa's remains from the bookcase and put them in a box. I'm pleased to report that they are now interred in their own vault and monument nearby Julien's grave and impressive landmark. Potosa's grave was finally constructed 100 years after Julien Dubuque's monument and its completion was celebrated with an authentic Native American ceremony honoring her spirit. The ceremony was conducted by decendents of Maskwaki Indians who came up from their reservation in Tama, Iowa and was attended by Dubuque civic leaders and members of the Historical Society. Julien Dubuque's wife, Potosa, was finally given a proper burial. To the best of our knowledge, none of this history of Julien Dubuque and his involvement with Potosa can be substatiated as hard fact, but still it's a great story as legends often are. Suffice to say there are two bodies buried in this sacred ground, and one is a French Canadian male and the other a Native American female.

Julien Dubuque's Monument is a very popular spot perhaps more for the view than it's local historical significance. It's now part of a larger park called the Mine's of Spain. Iowa was first Spanish territory, then French Louisianna Territory. In 1796, the Meskwaki village was nearby this monument and indeed, Julien Dubuque is buried beneath it.

The Meskwakies originally brought his body to this location, his resting place marked by a structure made of logs. By the 1890's local businessmen gathered to construct what they considered to be a proper burial chamber. Julien Dubuque's skull was carefully photographed before he was re-buried, the picture would be used a century later, and with the aid of a computer, a forensics specialist will recreate the face and profile of what Julien Dubuque must have looked like. A monument was built of native limestone blocks. The structure resembeled a giant chess piece. These memories were in my head as I set up my eisel next to Potosa's grave on the path to Julien’s monument.

It was October around 9 AM when I began painting this scene for the Dubuque Bluff Strokes Plein Air Paint Out, an annual event that attracts artists who love to paint outdoors from around the nation and in fact, the world. On this day, there was an almost continuous parade of visitors, young and old couples, a Loras College history class, hikers, and tourists visiting the monument and taking in the view. I had quite an audience as I hurried trying to capture the light and shadows cast upon the path to the monument. I included the figures of a couple who helped me carry my equipment back to the car so I could make my deadline for the “Quick Paint” competition in which I was entered. I had three hours to paint this scene and I barely made the deadline.

I didn't win anything for my effort. Admittedly my painting was unfinished but I vowed to finish the canvas in my studio, and I'm quite proud of the final piece. Oh, and I still have that bookcase. It’s in my studio. Sometimes when I’m painting late at night, I hear scratching coming from the bottom drawer. Then I hear the SNAP of the mousetrap.

 Julien Dubuque's Monument
11x16 inches printed on heavy canvas
$100 (Free Shipping)
Plein Air Painting The Heritage Trail #2, a long and winding road.
The Heritage Trail #2 print is available now faithfully printed on artist's canvas, rolled and packaged in a sturdy tube and shipped (free) to you ready to take to your framer. The painting above was just completed. I painted it on the Heritage Trail, a "Rails-to-Trails" recreation area that was a former railroad track that traversed Dubuque County, continued on through Illinois, and connecting Dubuque with the Chicago market. It's one of the most picturesque trails in the Midwest. I helped in the effort to raise funds for the trail 40 years ago working with volunteers who petitioned for state and county funds to establish the trail which connects Dubuque's trail network with Dyersville, Iowa 30 miles to the west. The entire trail follows the Little Maquoketa River which I depicted in this painting.
 Heritage Trail #2
12 x 18 inches
$110 (Free Shipping)

My artistic endeavors are navigating an exciting and inspirational road. Many years ago when I was just starting my career, I used to sketch and paint outdoors doing what is called "plein air" among enthusiasts of the art form. My desire is to return to this method of painting especially since I have more time for it and I don't have to worry about making a living. My painting technique, command of materials and several paintings I've already created outdoors have proven I'm "road worthy."

Painting outdoors is envigorating. However, it's fraught with perils. Sometimes nothing turns out as intended, but often I am surprised by my results. For the last nearly 30 years, I've had this 800 square foot art studio where everything is at my fingertips and I don't have to continuously setup or teardown every time I want to paint. Painting with logistical considerations has it's own challenges but also opportunities.

So two years ago I joined the throng of 60 painters that decended on my home town sponsored by a great local organization called Bluff Strokes Dubuque, Iowa with the purpose of capturing Dubuque and environs at the height of the fall season. The leaves were just turning colors. Plein air, as I soon discovered, is a large and enthusiastic art movement world wide. No cameras, no working from photos, and working with light that lasts maybe two hours in which you must capture your composition quickly. I've actually worked without a sketch entirely to save time and save the moment. It's so much fun that I've created a portable studio that I can transport on my recumbent tricycle and literally hit the road.

The Rhomberg Avenue Bridge

We have this amazing park in my town (Dubuque, Iowa) that began as a flood mitigation project. For years the eventuality of torrential rains would flood basements and inundate homes in this area which was a creek before it was a storm sewer. City planners asked themselves, "Why not reclaim the land, restore the creek which would be easier to manage?" And so houses were purchased and razed, land terraced and bridges built over the creek. Upsteam, a flood control mechanism handles seasonal runnoff and excessive rains. Along the bank of the creek is a continuation of the Heritage Trail, a hiking and biking trail that connects a larger network of city trails and extends all the way to Dyersville, Iowa. I was impressed with this magnificent bridge structure as it completely redefines the neighborhood of 100 year-old homes, beautiful churches and businesses. It is a civic project to be proud of.

I painted this view of one of the pictureque bridges. An instant landmark. A bicyclist can be seen in the lower right-hand corner. The print measures 28x14 inches on quality canvas, the image is enhanced by hand applied brush strokes.

$110 Free Shipping!

28x14 inches on canvas

Canvas prints arrive rolled in sturdy tubes

The Galena Cityscape
We have posted the latest video demonstration by Gary Olsen captured in his studio featuring his work on this Galena Cityscape. The painting, originally commissioned by Melissa Klein and family of Dubuque, Iowa, is an oil on canvas. It captures the panoramic view of Galena, Illinois from Grant Park. This painting celebrates the day Melissa's husband proposed to her. "How could I not be enthusiastic about this painting?" explains Gary. "I was swept up in the whole project! I've always wanted to do a Galena scene," Gary explains further, "that would compliment my approach to landscape painting. My friend and Galena painter, Carl Johnson, made his career as a painter of Galena scenes. He was an important influence and inspiration in my own career. This is more or less my tribute to his incredible legacy and the example he made of himself and his iconic works of art."
Click on the image above to reveal more detail in your browser. Printed on quality canvas, the color and detail of the print compared to the original are nearly indistinguishable.

The print measures 15 x 30 inches and is printed on quality canvas. GC001 Comes in a sturdy tube ready for framing.

$125 Free Shipping!
A savings of $50 NOW on this introductory Print!

Your print arrives in a sturdy mailing tube ready for framing. Since this is an enhanced canvas print complete with textured brush strokes, it's recommended you don't matte or use glass.It's not necessary. Frame it like an oil painting which is not only appropriate but representst a significant cost savings. Your framer can provide countless options. This way you become part of the creative process in the mounting and display of your print.
After the Storm, Balltown, Iowa alolng the Great River Road

Click on this image to see detail.

I love this scene along the Great River Road, Balltown, Iowa so much, I've painted it more than once, but this time it's spring. "After the Storm" depicts a common site from this high vantage point. A spring thunderstorm is upon you and soon it movies on and the sun comes out as you see the storm continue to rain upon the farms and towns across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.The air is scrubbed clean and the landscape is verdant shades green. Print on Canvas $175

After the Storm

BCD004 24x36 inches on Canvas



Price includes SHIPPING!

The America's River Art Project for the Dubuque Rotary Club

Gary Olsen has produced a video on the creation of a painting commissioned by the Dubuque Rotary Club celebrating its 100th Anniversary and the 15th Anniversary of its commitment to the America's River Project.

The massive original painting was unveiled to the public on Wednesday, October 12th, 2017.

America's River Print benefitting the Rotary Club's Humanitarian Grants Program. ORDER ONLINE NOW and save!RCP002. Print on Ppaper measures 33 x 20 inches
$40 includes shipping!

America's River Project began as a visionary initiative to improve our city's riverfront which had been largely industrial for generations. Two Rotarians, Wayne Norman and Jerry Enzler, crafted the idea for a revitalization project based on the success of Mystic Seaport, the popular and historic tourist destination in Mystic, Connecticut, and pitched it to the members.
Jerry Enzler

With the Rotary Club's enthusiastic support, the idea grew to become one of the most ambitious civic improvement projects in the Rotary Club's history. This early Rotary Club support for the project signaled the beginning of broad community buy-in as funds from several more sources grew to more than $40 million. The project serves as an example of what a community can do when it's truly inspired and its leaders and creative thinkers begin collaborating and working together.

Gary Olsen, an artist for nearly 50 years in Dubuque, is well known for his landscapes and cityscapes of Dubuque, Iowa and its surrounding countryside. Gary witnessed the evolution of Dubuque's riverfront that changed Dubuque's skyline forever. His celebratory painting features how much Dubuque's "front yard" has changed. Limited edition prints of the painting, signed and numbered by the artist, are available at Creative Touch Gallery on Hillcrest Rd. and Frame of Mind at Plaza 20. Also they are available directly from the artist by clicking on the Order Button below. Funds raised by the sale of these prints will benefit local Rotary Club Humanitarian Grants that are awarded non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of others and making Dubuque a great place to live and raise families.

The Heritage Trail Prints

Heritage Trail, The Drawing (click on image to see details)

This print measures 17 x 38 inches on archival paper $125 Free Shipping HTBW001

Heritage Trail, The Painting (click on image to see details)

This Print measures 17x31 inches on archival paper $125 Free Shipping HTC001
Click on the images above to see detailed versions in your web browser. The Heritage Trail, an Iowa "Rails to Trails" project, was presented to me back in 1980s. I was working at John Deere and some cycling enthusiasts approached me to participate in a fund raising event to generate seed money and to drum up local support for the project. Thirty years later, the 30 mile trail that connects Dubuque extensive in-town bicyle path network follows the Little Maquoketa River valley to the north and west, connecting with Dyersville, Iowa 15 miles due west of Dubuque along US 20. The picturesque ride along the Little Maquoketa River makes it one of the most scenic trails in the Midwest. I am a frequent rider on the trail, and what I love most is the "tunnel of trees" that has formed along several sections of the trail that adjoin the river. I am trying to capture this vision in my composition. I spent several days on the drawing so I could work out compositional details, contrast and balance. The piece is actually a landscape within a landscape. A characteristic of the trail is that you see a pastoral landscape through the trees that line the tail. Dappled light filters through the trees creating interesting contrast of light and shadow. I published the drawing on Facebook to see what people thought of it. The drawing received such an enthusiastic response, I ended up selling the first draft of it and then I decided to publish a print of the drawing along with the print of the completed painting.
The Cy Ferring Murals
Artist Cy P. Ferring

I was working for the Dubuque Community Schools when I had the opportunity to take a walk through Senior High School with a teacher friend of mine scouting locations for a video project I was assigned to do. I walked into the school auditorium and much to my amazement I found myself staring at a fairly intact theater space that was built in the Arts and Crafts Style (sometimes referred to or confused with Mission Style) of the early 20th Century, and I was stunned. Sadly the balcony was walled off for classroom space, and the once decorative brass light fixtures were gone, replaced by the ugliest fluorescent light boxes. The dark wood walls were still in good shape but not good repair, and the seating was threadbare but could be restored. What was amazingly still intact but suffering years of neglect were the Cy Ferring Murals. I was thrilled! I remembered seeing them when I was in my 20s and marveling at their detail and sweeping composition. I knew little of Cy Ferring, but I finally did some research. It's a long but exciting story from that time in the 1960s when i first laid eyes on the murals to today. Learn more by visiting my special web page dedicated to the memory of this amazing work and the Dubuque artist behind it, Cy P. Ferring.

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