“We had to play with what was around,” she said.
“When my mother would be out hanging up clothes, she would go in the garage when we wanted something to do and she would bring a hammer and wood and nails. She’d tell us to make something. She had us do something useful . . . we would crack black walnuts on a piece of railroad tie. She’d yell at us, ‘Don’t eat ‘em when you finally succeed in cracking them.’”
Oleksa grew up in the Port Clinton area. At 12 years old she began taking oil painting lessons, and after high school she was able to attend night classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art taking design.
Later, Oleksa took week-long lapidary workshops at Richard Howland School in Young Harris, Ga. She added her love of silversmithing and lapidary work to her knowledge base, which includes making leaded stained glass as well as the lost-wax process of making jewelry.
As a result of having an antique shop in Port Clinton for 30-plus years, the current workshop owner said “you see all these old things and find value in them.”
“My parents didn’t want me to be an artist. To make a living I started out in the floral trade with a shop in Port Clinton, using crocks and barrels to decorate. But people wanted to buy the crocks, so I eliminated selling flowers and got into antiques. I have done painting of china dolls. I also did hand-sewn clothing for dolls as my night job. Setting up an antique shop is like arranging a still life, so even having your own business doing displays takes artistic design skills,” she recalled.
Her 223 E. Market St., Sandusky location is where she creates her own three-dimensional artifacts and offers instruction in oil painting. The walls are covered with student art as well as some of her own. On the work table — a collection of several recent assemblages.
“Cork is a good background for a lot of my pieces because you can stick things in it. Some pieces want good composition and good balance so you create something interesting. Buyers look at it and find a challenge in what the parts are. They enjoy looking at the work of an assemblage of components that make it an art piece,” Oleksa said, pointing out the various rusted, “antique trash” items the artist believes tweak one’s imagination.
She explained how the assemblage process inspired her, after attending a demonstration by a practitioner who sprayed a piece black as a finishing touch — a move Oleksa admitted she didn’t like.
“I can do better than that,” she told herself, “not to damage or destroy parts of the assemblage that are unique. I left that meeting and I thought I’m going to do it my own way, using all natural things that are found — little things that no one would thing of. Things that are otherwise useless.”
When asked “Where do you find this stuff? Where do you get these ideas?” for the “antique trash-” materials she’s been using for six years, “Open up the kitchen junk drawer,” she replies.
When it comes to the big screen, the “Waterworld” and “Mad Max Thunderdome” costume enthusiast said those (clothing) styles also inspired her to use trash in a creative way.
“Can we save Mother Earth?,” Oleksa said. “Create art from ordinary things you would throw away.”
At one point, she arranged a composition for a student who wanted to honor her mechanic father’s trade by showing the tools of that trade — oil cans of all sizes and a fly-wheel. Together with her student, they each painted the same scene while she demonstrated the techniques as an instructor.
The Port Clinton native said she “got into teaching by accident when a friend asked me if I would give her art lessons if she would bring another student. Now I have classes that have grown to a point where I give instruction three days a week,” added the artist, who believes “painting is a therapeutic experience.”
Now, Oleksa’s new goal is to make more wearable items, like vests made from recycled art.
“(The) Carrington Art Gallery in Sandusky has featured my art two or three times a year because I have a following. Marsha (Carrington) says, ‘People like your work.’”
“Creativity is the best reward. Inspiration is when you move trash into a treasured piece,” Oleksa said.