Checking in with Rose Olson and Cassandra Baker

April 15, 2020

Faculty Emeritus Rose Olson is staying home and staying safe. And for Rose, staying home means being surrounded by art in progress. It means continuing to paint without slowing down. 

“Well this is the way I live. It didn’t matter whether I was taking care of my parents or my grandchildren or babysitting or going to school or I had classes- I always painted. You know, I mean sometimes I didn’t get any sleep because I was painting. But I had to paint every day. That’s what I do.”

It’s not that social distancing orders haven’t affected her and her work; she’s had a show at the Kingston Gallery rescheduled for a to-be-determined date and she’s had to reconsider visits from her older son, who still lives in Beverly.

“Nobody knows what to do and if you can stay alive that’s what’s most important. Just stay healthy and stay alive. And that means less contact with other people and that’s the sad part. I keep turning out paintings- I can’t help myself- but I miss the fact that I can’t see a lot of people.

One constant, through this crisis and through much of Rose’s recent career, has been Cassandra Baker. Now an impressive artist wholly in her own right, Cassandra was just a student when she met Rose in the fall of 1997.

“She was my professor in the 2D design course of my freshman foundation year. I remember so distinctly her slide lecture the very first class. She took many famous impressionist paintings like Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” and projected it upside so we could see the underlying structure and his choices he made to compose his masterpiece. It was in that moment that I knew I had many things to learn and Rose was the perfect teacher for me.”

After graduating, Cassandra got a job working. for the college as a Assistant Director of Continuing Education. Rose remained her mentor and even outside of the classroom, offering Cassandra critiques and eventually helping her put together a portfolio for an MFA application.

When Cassandra settled on Pratt and made the move to New York, the two remained close. Rose came out to visit Cassandra’s studio, and the two would visit the galleries and museums in the city together. It was only natural that, when Cassandra moved back to Beverly, their relationship would be closer than ever before. They began sharing their work more frequently, and having critiques in Rose’s home. Cassandra was invited into Rose’s Color Issues class to give critiques to her students.

“Being in contact with her again was one of the best perks of being in the area. Soon after she asked if I would be interested in assisting her in her studio with preparing the supports, photographing and packing up the finished work. I jumped at the offer. To this day, I still assist her in her studio and I bring my new paintings to her house to be critiqued frequently. 

“I never knew how much of an impact she would have on me and my work or that we would still be so close after 20 years of friendship. For that I am truly grateful.”

That friendship continues.

“We’re being careful, Cassie and I,” Rose says. “She doesn’t see anyone and I don’t see anyone but her. And as far as painting, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I always have to do it.”

So Rose may be socially isolating, but she is far from isolated. The family and community that orbits around her isn’t going anywhere.

“My middle son sent me a big box the other day and I’m wondering ‘what is in this?’ Well, it’s five loaves of my favorite bread. Because he knew I had to have that every morning.”

Right now Rose’s work is hanging in the Founder’s Gallery at 248 Cabot Street, the first art many of the staff see as they come into work in the morning. And a few steps away, where the hall turns toward President Steinberg’s office, is Cassandra Baker’s work. Not right next to Rose’s work, perhaps. But never very far away.