“You carry within you many, many layers,” Marie Olofsdotter says, when looking back at pivotal moments in her life. As a young woman growing up in Sweden she never intended to come to the United States.
“Although I’ve been here forever now it seems,” she says. “It’s just something that unfolded one step at a time. Things happen that you never really planned. It just unfolds.”
Teachers appeared at turning points offering suggestions for Olofdotter’s life path. While on sabbatical from fine arts school and studies in sculpture, attending a clown school in Stockholm, Sweden, she had a teacher from Duluth – the first time she had heard of Minnesota. As a student with interests in both art and theater, her teacher mentioned a clown and mime school in Northern California. The suggestion brought her to the U.S. in the early 1980s.
During her year at clown school, she had another teacher from Minnesota who invited her to join a commedia dell’arte troupe based in Bemidji. She toured with the group around northern Minnesota for a summer. During this time she met people engaged in the Great River Revival – a project focused on cleaning up the Mississippi River. She spent the next year touring with an environmental puppet theater group along the length of the Mississippi, including working with the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. She landed in Minneapolis, where she has put down roots for more than 30 years, living close to the Mississippi.
“I like to say that everything I learned in life I learned in clown school,” Olofsdotter says. “I am a painter as well as a clown.”
She is also a poet, an author and illustrator of two books, as well as illustrator of several books by other authors. She is the 2013 Minnesota State Fair poster artist.
For years, Olofsdotter has been a teaching artist, working in K-12 schools around the state, and community and elder care centers.
She especially enjoys the creativity she finds in kindergarten to fifth grade students. “I am interested in freeing people up to be creative and express themselves. It’s interesting working with adults, sometimes they will relax into that part of themselves. In creativity, is there an age? I don’t think so.”
Lyrical, magical realism
Although she has lived in Minnesota for over three decades, Olofsdotter considers herself to be a citizen of the world with Nordic sensibilities. This includes a worldview of equality between women and men and closeness to nature. Her artwork themes often center on the divine feminine, including Mother Earth with reoccurring imagery of flowing rivers or birds in the air – or in someone’s hair as seen in the painting on the cover of this issue.
“My signature style is a lyrical, magical realism,” she writes in her artist statement. “My artistic vision has been uniquely enhanced by my work in physical theatre and the fact that English is my second language. I navigate multiple cultural territories and it is natural for me to look beyond language to discern the essential meaning.”
“Creative Wind” – the artwork on this month’s cover – has “a style that lends itself to my love for nature,” Olofsdotter says. “Like the woman with the birds, it’s a magical image, a lyrical image, but it has an element of realism in it as a portrait.”
More than an actual portrait of someone, the painting conveys a feeling. “It’s peaceful thinking. The woman has a joyful quality to her, a serenity,” Olofsdotter says. “I think that when you look at my work this feeling will often be there – a sense of spacious serenity.”
She usually stays with universal imagery in her art. “That’s just my nature. It’s not a Swedish thing to be universal, but when you’re from another culture you kind of end up in an in-between space – or I have. I tend to not cling to anything that defines me from outside, but I define something about who I am from the inside.”
Her philosophy is to be open to what comes along. “I’m certain there are people who plan out their lives and follow it exactly, but often things just happen. I could never have imagined that I’d be living in a foreign country, teaching and talking about poetry in my second language. Moving to the U.S. was not something I wanted to do. I thought it was a very violent country. Then I happened upon this teacher, and I came to the U.S. and realized that whatever I believed about the U.S. wasn’t about the people. I’ve met so many nice people. There are aspects of the American people that I appreciate. It’s hard to grasp this country. I still can’t figure it out,” she laughs. “I’ve been here over 30 years. Do you understand it?”