About Us

Jack Olson at Work

Jack Olson (center) with students in the studio

The Jack Olson Memorial Gallery is the cornerstone of exhibition programming promoted by the School of Art at Northern Illinois University. Its unique mission is twofold: to bring thought provoking exhibitions to the northern Illinois region; to provide an exhibition venue for the latest creative efforts of our students and faculty. Complemented by an extensive visiting artists and scholars lecture series, the Olson Gallery and nearby Gallery 214 serve as a cultural center for the visual arts that serves the campus community and the region.

We are pleased to be able to provide this programming to the public free of charge in an accessible building.

Professor Olson joined the art education faculty at NIU in 1968 along with a number of other new faculty members in the growing art program under the direction of department Head, Jack Arends.  Professor Olson had been director of art for the West Orange Public Schools in New Jersey prior to his arrival at Northern.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, art education had the largest number of majors among the various undergraduate degree options in the department.

Professor Olson was also a practicing painter and established an active presence in the Chicago art scene soon after his arrival, exhibiting his works in various venues on a regular basis.  Because of his interest in studio art, he was permitted to shift his teaching emphasis from art education to painting and drawing in 1977-78.  Concurrently, he also took on the part-time responsibilities of director for Gallery 200.

Professor Olson worked closely with both undergraduate and graduate students, receiving NIU's Excellence in Teaching Award in 1990 as a tribute to the high esteem with which he was held by both students and colleagues.  He retired from the university in the spring of 1994. During the winter of 1994-95, he learned that he was suffering from advanced cancer. He died July 28, 1995 in DeKalb, having made the decision to forego extraordinary medical treatment. His wife and loving companion Eleanor also died of cancer in November of the same year. In their memory, they established a generous scholarship endowment for the School of Art.