Har-Brack grad to share his famed art career in miniatures at museum talk
His work might be small, but Robert “Bob” Olszewski's impact as an artist who focuses on tiny details has been big.
The Harrison native, who lives in California, will give a presentation on the “Art of Miniatures” at the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society's Heritage Museum in Tarentum at 1 p.m. July 27.
He has traveled to some 750 shows worldwide and given talks at at least 500 of them, but home remains close to his heart. “Without the Alle-Kiski Valley, I would not be where I am today,” he says.
“The art of miniature is where my passion lies and my exploration of miniature has taken many forms,” Olszewski says.
Among those forms are pieces created for Goebels Company (makers of E.I. Hummel figurines), the Danbury Mint and Disney.
To say the award-winning artist's work is done on a small scale is an understatement.
According to Olszewski, his final works can stand as tall as 5⁄8 of an inch or, with more extensive works, such as a miniature of Disneyland's Main Street, or measure six feet long by two and a half feet wide.
“I would say I am fascinated with the compression an image or images into a reasonably small scale or onto a small surface such as a box.
“This act done right will redefine the larger object and cause you to look at it differently.”
Olszewski's work is done as small as what is called Z-scale, a 1:220 scale ratio.
The opportunity to meet the well-known artist comes courtesy of the Har-Brack High School 50th class reunion.
Olszewski — who graduated from Har-Brack (the predecessor to Highlands High School) in 1963 after attending Birdville Elementary and Blessed Sacrament School — will be in town over the weekend for the reunion.
In a nod to his fellow alumni, admission will be free to members of the Har-Brack class of 1963. For others, a $5 donation is suggested.
In addition to his presentation, the artist will sign up to three pieces.
He will share a slideshow and discussion on his work, which includes not only the tiny collectible sculptures he is best known for, but also early paintings.
“People are always curious as to how I got started, which is a question asked at every show,” he explains. “I will answer that, along with sharing the evolution of my career.”
Olszewski's interest in painting and drawing art developed early, and by 16, he began winning awards for his work at art shows.
After earning a bachelor's degree in art education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he moved to California to pursue art while teaching.
He discovered the world of miniatures while building a dollhouse for his daughter and later left teaching to devote himself to art in miniature full time.
In 1993, a 30-year museum retrospective of his work was mounted at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, Calif., and, in the same year, he was named International Collectible Artist of the Year.
The Heritage Museum features a permanent display of Olszewski's artwork. The collection was donated by his brother, Ray Olszewski.
“It is a beautiful sample of the various type of work Bob has done,” Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Society president Dolly Mistrik says.
She says that the permanent exhibit includes items Olszewski made while under contract with Goebel, the Franklin Mint, the Danbury Mint, Disney and Enesco.
Jamie Stoner, curator of the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum, has a unique perspective on Olszewski's miniatures.
“Having worked here at (the museum) for a while, I am really excited to meet the man behind one of my favorite exhibits,” she says. “I love miniatures, and I have never seen more detailed ones,” Stoner says.
She would know; she oversees the cleaning of the tiny figurines in the Tarentum museum's permanent display.
“For this process,” she explains, “we use high magnification. Even at 10 times magnification, the details and facial expression are clear.”
In anticipation of the upcoming program, Stoner has purchased an Olszewski collectible of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
“The exhibit highlights a local talent and gives the opportunity to appreciate the hard work and detail that Mr. Olszewski puts into all of his work,” says museum intern Ryan Kuehn.
From Stoner's perspective, the upcoming program and the permanent exhibit offer a chance to see art in a new way, especially when you look closely.
“I think Olszewski's work brings us the unique chance to look at and examine the small details in the world.”
Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.