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Minnesota artist brings art and activism to Charles City Arts Center in August

Minnesota artist brings art and activism to Charles City Arts Center in August
“Bagged Fruit” is one of the works that artist Erik Jon Olson will show in August at the Charles City Arts Center. The exhibit titled “Not My Grandma’s Quilts” features work made from plastic waste and other entirely recycled and repurposed materials. Submitted photo
To The Press

The Charles City Arts Center will exhibit “Not My Grandma’s Quilt,” by artist Erik Jon Olson as the August artist of the month show features “quilts” made from recycled/repurposed plastic waste.

Olson said the catalyst for this artistic expression came to him after he retired from the advertising industry in Minneapolis.

While working with a friend on a venture, he was challenged to use his creative design background on the plastic waste being used in his friend’s project. The idea of making plastic waste quilts was born.

Olson said it is more than a simple passion for art and creativity that keeps the Iowa born artist busy, it is a passion for the environment and sustainability. The driving force behind his art is the actual medium used, the plastic waste, using what would otherwise become landfill.

Beyond the plastic waste, everything Olson uses is either recycled, repurposed or purchased second hand. Nothing new is involved in any level of his creative process.

He credits inspiration for the idea itself to his grandmother who would use old cloth bags and glass jars that goods came in to craft dolls and clothing and other items. The idea of repurposing and reusing was ingrained early.

“All works are constructed from machine quilted and surged, previously used, single-use plastic. The ‘batting’ consists of used pallet wrap and packing foam. The thread is manufacturing left-overs and overstock. Even my sewing machines were previously owned – one of which was my grandmother’s,” Olson said,

Olson said he is very concerned about the human impact on the planet and seeks environmentally responsible ways to do most everything in his life. His art is no different.

And the art’s message conveys that.

“By layering environmental issues with social justice messaging, my art emphasizes our alienation from the environment and each other, our willingness to waste and our subsequent need for healing,” he said.

Olson said he hopes that people will walk away with a renewed or new sense of their impact on the planet and their surrounding community and ask themselves questions about their consumer habits and gain “a curiosity about why we consume so much, why we waste so much and how that can affect the whole planet.”

He added, “Through seeing a new thing done in an old way, I hope the viewer comes away with the knowledge that one can hang on to tradition and make change at the same time. Or to put it another way, that the courage and willingness to make a change and the desire of and comfort in honoring tradition are not mutually exclusive.”

The August exhibit kicks off Friday, Aug. 4, with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Charles City Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information call 641-228-6284 or send an email to

The arts center is located across from Central Park at 301 N. Jackson Street.

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