Born in 1889 at Ridgeway, Iowa, to Norwegian pioneers, the fifth daughter of seven with a younger brother and four sisters, Olena came to a homestead 30 miles north of Watson, SK in 1911. Olena’s interest in sketching animals at a young age led to her being enrolled in a Lutheran college in Red Wing, Minnesota in 1907, where she learned oil painting ("Night Scene of Schooner”). She had previously taken a mail course doing a pen & ink and perspective exercise. Her father encouraged further schooling, so she went to the Winnipeg School of Art during 1914-15 where pencil studies of the human form were taught using plaster models (Julius Caesar, Laughing Boy, Nude Torso). Later she went there for a brief time when Lemoine Fitzgerald was Head in 1938 (Fitzgerald became an invited member of the Group of Seven).
Boarding with her sister on the U of S campus, she was able to get lessons from Gus Kenderdine who had been appointed first art instructor (oil copies). Her first showing was held in Saskatoon. She exhibited oils "Winter” and "Autumn”, scenes from the farm. She attended Emma Lake summer school for three seasons. Instructors were Kenneth Lougheed, Arthur McCay, Rita Cowley, Mr. Wickenden, and Winona Mulcaster.
In later winters at Edinburgh, Texas, she enjoyed doing street scenes in Mexico and some portraits in pencil. Retiring to Melfort, she continued to sketch, making notes on colors for future painting.
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