Jim Oleson

Artist Statement

I have been making furniture for about 35 years, one of my first hardwood projects having been a cherry blanket chest for my daughter that had nearly 100 dovetail joints that I cut with hand tools! The early projects were utilitarian but as I continued to design and make furniture my vision began to change and I imagined objects as composed of related shapes, lines, and curves in three dimensions –sculptural objects that embodied aesthetic ideas.

My work process is to imagine a shape, abstract or suggested by nature, and then make sketches with many variations in order to develop the design. Incorporating curves is important to me because curves help to create a sense of movement and provide a reference to nature. After the basic design is established I go through a problem solving exercise involving selection of materials, defining structural and mechanical requirements, and satisfying functional needs. This problem solving process provides intellectual stimulation and great satisfaction.

I prefer a spare and elegant aesthetic that incorporates relatively few decorative accents. I use woods that have intrinsic beauty of color and grain to reinforce the design concept. With each piece I enjoy exploring the use of a new material, technique, or design, and this has enabled me to continually develop and expand my skills. I have been inspired by the work of George Nakashima, Jere Osgood, and Wendell Castle.

A successful work intrigues the eye, arouses curiosity, and draws one closer to the object. It also stimulates an irresistible urge in the viewer to touch the work.


In high school and college I took drawing and painting courses, but my art activities were on hold while I completed graduate school and began working as a research physicist. Later I changed careers and became a physician, finding time in evenings and weekends to develop my interest in furniture design and making. I have enjoyed taking workshops with Roseanne Somerson, Jeff Jewitt, Teri Masaschi, Paul Schűrch, and Michael Fortune. Now retired, I spend most of my days in the workshop.