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For Ryan Olsen, It All Started in Weiser, Idaho…

“When people ask me where I learned to sing like that or carve like that, I smile and say ‘it all started in Weiser, Idaho,” wrote Ryan Olsen, reminiscing on where his creative desires truly started.  Olsen grew up in little old Weiser where resources are limited but inspiring teachers, mentors, and community support are not in short supply.  “There are so many incredible teachers, mentors, church support, community, and scout leaders that helped me gain the confidence and drive.”  So, what exactly does Ryan Olsen do, you may be wondering?

First let us go back a few years to when Ryan was a boy.  “My dad is an incredible artist.  He is a very talented and accomplished landscape painter.  He has a very artistic eye and is able to spot the ‘art’ in almost everything.  I helped him put together his art studio in the basement when I was really young.  I would go down there in the cold winter and watch him paint a sunset or a winter scene, and I can still remember the smell of the paint on the canvas.  He would talk with me and I would ask him questions.   That started a desire to create.”

In the fourth grade, he struggled a lot in school with low test scores, falling behind in subjects, and overall, not doing well.  His teacher, Mrs. Kellum, saw right through the struggle, though, and discovered how creative Olsen was, and using that to her advantage, she helped him become successful that year.  Since then, Ryan said he began to think and learn in a more creative way.  Another big influence in his younger years was Mr. Duffy Markel, who taught him how to draw in high school.

“My first year of college, I was an art major.  I spent some very valuable time sitting in the art studio, drawing the human figure from live models.  I had some incredible teachers, and was really enjoying myself.  Then, my art career was completely derailed.  They were doing an opera at the school and held open auditions.  I went to the library and found a cassette tape with an opera aria on it and went into the audition and knocked it out of the park.  I was offered the leading role.  After that, I switched my major to music and never looked back.”

Olsen graduated from Utah State and then continued his education at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to earn a master’s degree.  In school and after graduation, he performed in professional opera all over the United States, Canada, and even ventured as far as Italy!   “I loved being on stage and I loved the challenge, but I missed my family when I was away for long periods of time.  On the road, you have a lot of spare time, and I started carving in motel rooms to relieve stress.  After that, the rest is history.  I have loved carving ever since.  It has become one of my greatest joys.”

Olsen was a professor at Boise State University for 12 years and has taught music in public schools for the last 14 years.  He stated that he currently runs a successful choral program at Kuna High School where there are about 250 singers in his choirs. 

“My philosophy is that if you want to be the best, you’ve got to learn from the best.  For years, I would drive to Twin Falls every year to work with some of the best caricature carvers in the country at the woodcarver’s rendezvous.  Many of them saw my potential and helped me out.  I have always asked a lot of questions and have tried to ‘pick the brains’ of highly talented people,” he explained.  Ten years ago, Olsen won first place in a national woodcarving competition, which led to him being a part of the Caricature Carvers of America.  With only about 25 people in this group, Olsen said it was quite an honor to be asked to be a part of it.  Since he joined, his carving talents have really taken off.  “Now I run the competition I won, and will often fly back east to judge it,” he shared.

When two passions collide, you have a passionate teacher who teaches other people to carve!  Olsen has travelled all over the country performing woodcarving classes.  Over the past few years, he has built a student base of people who travel across the country just to study with him.  “Every year, I teach at the international woodcarver’s congress.  I really love passing on the hobby that has given me so much.”

Because of the pandemic and so many people being stuck at home, Olsen decided to teach an online woodcarving class via Zoom.  Beginning in January, he will be teaching a fun and simple bust project online designed for intermediate to advanced woodcarvers.  If you or someone you know might be interested, email Ryan at ryanscaricatures@gmail.com for more information. 

Olsen explained that carving is peaceful.  When cutting into wood, he simply blocks everything else out just to solely focus on the tools and a piece of wood.  “It is the ultimate hobby because once you have some descent tools, all you need is some quality wood and you are good to go.  I carve in bass wood.  It comes from a linden tree, and is known for it’s perfect, tight grain.  It is the perfect wood for wood carvers.”  For those who might be interested in taking up the hobby, Olsen suggests starting with a quality carving knife, some bass wood, and check out some YouTube videos or woodcarving books.

Because of the start that he got in life back in Weiser as a youngster, Olsen said that he decided to raise his four children in a small community, too.  He raised his kids in Melba, not far from his roots.  “I will never forget them (teachers and mentors) for all they have done for me and my family,” he concluded.

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