A vision of the Eisenhower-era mother;
eager to please, ready to serve, and blissfully sweeping
the unmentionable under the rug
Photography by Judy Olausen
Wayzata, Minnesota-born Judy Olausen spent her childhood in an environment that would provide inspiration for her later work. She entered the University of Minnesota planning to study architecture. When a class she planned to take was full, she substituted a course in photojournalism taught by Dr. R. Smith Schuneman. He became an important mentor for her and the class changed the course of her career. Olausen graduated with a B.A. in Photojournalism in 1967. This training prepared her well for the medium that would establish her reputation for portrait photography.
A personal project developed into a best-selling and influential book, Mother, published in 1996, which broke a sales record at The New York Times. Olausen described her book as “…a vision of the Eisenhower era mother, eager to please, ready to serve and blissfully sweeping the unmentionable under the rug.” It is also a loving tribute to her mother, Vivian, who modeled for the images. The project took four years to complete and was set in the time before birth control. Quoted in Harper’s, Olausen described her mother as part of “…a forgotten generation of women who put their kids and husbands before their own needs and hovered in the background, like furniture.” The iconic image “Mother as Coffee Table” (above) conveys this perfectly.
Beyond the satirical edge, the exaggerated theatricality of Vivian’s expressions and poses and the brightly colored, cartoon-like settings, these are powerful visual metaphors in which she gives tribute to her lifelong inspiration, Marcel Duchamp. Each element in these carefully rendered compositions provides both overt and subliminal messages about the complex and often contradictory roles of the American housewife during this period. The public response to Mother was overwhelming. Mother appeared on The New York Times Best Sellers List in 1996, breaking a sales record. Olausen and her mother made a number of national TV appearances, including the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show with Connie Chung, and they were interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Ms, LIFE, People, Harper’s and the Chicago Tribune did features on the book.
This canonically Minnesotan and Nordic-American artist will show her work in the Gallery at Norway House this Summer. You are heartily invited to experience the detailed scenes and humor guaranteed to make you smirk.