Carolyn Olbum has pursued a distinguished career. Her ceramic wall pieces and colorful mosaics, done for corporate collections, have now evolved into trompe l'oeil "trophies." These are not prizes wrested from nature but sculptural haiku, a personal shorthand in which the viewer is invited to find counterparts in his or her own thoughts and memories.
The artist's works are made of bronze. But their direct casting from actual objects — spent mullein spikes found in fields, planks of abandoned barnwood — take on a different dimensionality when touched by the solidity of bronze. This alloy of copper and tin is one of mankind’s ancient aesthetic materials.
While studying these objects, the viewer may be surprised to find small heads and faces of a whimsical kind. This is the artist at work transforming nature into works of imagination. The images call back to ancient, never quite forgotten animations. They suggest spiritual explanations for natural forces only recently understood by science.
But inherent in these 'trophies' is another feeling. Even though we may know why phenomena like the wind, earthquakes and tides, occur, there is more: the unexplainable spirit that moves us to cherish the land and its still unknown mysteries. Carolyn Olbum catches these subtle thoughts in a unique and memorable way.
art and architecture critic
Carolyn Olbum's work embodies the act of translation in converting the ephemeral to the permanent, common vegetable materials to precious bronze and silver, identifiable objects to abstract forms. Her sculptures, which manifest a creative tension in the fusion of natural and man-made objects, are at once recognizable yet abstract, spare but solid, evoking both nature and man, motion and stillness. Constants in her work include the commitment to found objects, the personal nature of her subjects and forms, and the desire to evoke a particular place.
The act of absorbing her environment is crucial to Olbum's process — her family and her surroundings are her inspiration. During walks she gathers dried vines, branches, seedpods, and other objects of nature that may then hang in her studio for months, lived with and studied, before the act of translation begins. She combines various materials and textures in her search for expressive forms, lines, and evocative moments, and the original material is transformed, losing its identity as a "stick" or a "vine," becoming instead an original composition, an iconic, enduring work of art.
When considering Olbum's career from her early work in clay to her sumptuously colorful mosaics and wall pieces, and then to the sculptures in bronze and silver with their striking minimalism of form, one notes a process of elimination, a refinement or stripping away of the unnecessary. The simplicity and maturity of Olbum's sculpture evidences a commitment to the use of negative space as a conscious component of each piece, while at the same time her work with commonplace materials evokes forms suggestive of growth and change.
Assistant Professor of Art