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Baths of Caracalla, Rome, 2008
Skid Row, Seattle, 1970
The Cabin, Amagansett, 1968
Lake Whatocom waterfall, 1970
Drawing: Laurie Olin
Harvey & Irwin Kroiz Gallery, Architectural Archives
220 South 34th Street, Philadelphia
Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9am to 4pm
For landscape architect and Practice Professor of Landscape Architecture Emeritus Laurie Olin (b. 1938), drawing is about making places. This exhibition, gathering examples from seven decades of work, explores the imaginative ways that Olin uses drawing to see and understand the world around him. Curiosity, observation, and wonder inspire his graphic engagement and have filled the pages of his many sketchbooks and flowed out onto sheets and rolls of many sizes. Drawing, Olin remarks, “helps you see…what is good about the good…to discern what is really good, and to recognize the subtleties.”
In Alaska, where Olin grew up, “everybody tells stories.” Living at the edge of that immense wilderness, Olin found his graphic mentors on the pages of popular magazines and in syndicated comic strips shipped in by air to his hometown of Fairbanks. Folk stories, like those found in Alaskan Igloo Tales, with illustrations by indigenous artist George Ahgupuk, depicted the landscape, wildlife, and culture around him. Formal training in drawing came during architecture school at the University of Washington (B.Arch, 1961), and yet, the urge of the narrative tradition remained strong. After five years working as an architect in Seattle and New York City, Olin withdrew from practice and fully invested himself into drawing and painting. It was a deep dive into the surreal, unsettled late 1960s. Olin’s drawings ranged between the precise and the gestural, they explored themes of “sex, anxiety, politics….all sorts of stuff,” but mostly they captured in vivid detail the world around him, first, from the interior of a 16 by 16 foot cabin in Amagansett, Long Island, and later, from Agate Point on Puget Sound. Olin experimented with different types of paper—some made smooth by their clay content—and even tried drawing with broken sticks dipped in ink. His most poignant drawings of the period were made after his return to the Pacific Northwest. His many sketches of Seattle’s Skid Row community depict men, seemingly with nothing to do, living at the margin of society. “I was in a mood and I just started drawing,” says Olin, “and I kept drawing until some other upheaval occurred. I couldn’t help myself but to draw a lot.”
Olin’s drawings, thereafter, carry this experience. Beginning in 1972, as he returned to practice and began teaching, Olin found time for intensive periods of drawing in England, Italy, America, and China. “You can never teach someone how to draw,” said Olin, but you can teach someone “how to see.” Drawing is a key for Olin, to pass “through sight and feeling into an understanding beyond appearance, and strive to reach the essence of things.”
Works on view will include over 50 original drawings from Olin's travels and explorations in the United States, Europe and Asia, as well as studies for a number of important landscapes including Apple Park in Cupertino, California and the Washington Monument grounds in Washington, DC.
Questions? Please contact the Architectural Archives at 215.898.8323
This exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of the Shedd Endowment and the Friends of the Architectural Archives.