Olney-Wall’s own passion for art took off in the 5th grade making doll clothes, weaving belts and creating all kinds of things by hand. “I would see something in a museum like an African belt and go home and try to re-create it,” Olney-Wall says. When asked what inspired her arts career, she reflects for a moment and says, “My grandfather was an artist and even though I didn’t get to meet him, I inherited several of his paintings. I think that’s where it came from.”
Olney-Wall continued her path as an artist through high school and college where her fiber sculptures, weavings and paintings were featured in many shows. Alongside her visual art, Olney-Wall was also a dancer. When she reached a point in college where she had to choose between art or dance, she chose art. “I have a Bachelor’s in Fine Art, not in Art Education because I never believed in telling a child their work wasn’t good enough for an A. I found the grading process counterproductive to how you should feel when you create art,” she says. After graduating from the University of Iowa, Olney-Wall and a friend opened a Fiber Arts supply store and Gallery in Iowa City, IA. Six years later, she met her husband and moved to the Annapolis area and began teaching at Maryland Hall in 1986.
Her first classes at Maryland Hall included tapestry weaving, graphic novellas for kids, clothing design for children and acrylic painting. For nine years, Olney-Wall was also an Artist In Resident with a weaving studio and painting studio that she kept with open doors as much as possible while raising two young daughters. “I’ve never had a day where I didn’t want to go to work,” she says. When asked what students can expect in her classes, Olney-Wall says, “Students will find something, a feeling, they can’t get doing any other kind of thing – except maybe from a dance class – and they will improve immediately, learning more than they can use. It’s all up to them; I’m just showing the way.”
In Olney-Wall’s Open Studio classes, students come in with work they’ve started or ideas for new things. She guides them with questions like what are you doing, are you having trouble and what about trying this? The supportive and open environment helps students take a step back and focus on making their work better. For students who don’t know where to start, she employs a trick, “I have them paint with their opposite hand so they lose control and get a little looser.” This semester she’ll introduce new pastel and fiber arts open studios.
Olney-Wall’s past students have gone on to become Elementary Art teachers, parents who bring their students back for classes and, in the case of Christian Siriano, an internationally known fashion designer. “If you love what you do, you’ll succeed and if you love what you’re working on, you’ll be happy,” Olney-Wall says. When she isn’t teaching at Maryland Hall, Olney-Wall can be found creating in her home studio and working on a set of educational books for drawing, painting and pastel. But you’ll have to take a class with her while you can…she and her husband have a dream to move to Greece or Italy where they’ll host week-long workshops for travelers.