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Ruthann Olsson

A Wealth of Inspiration

by Joseph Montebello

On a perfect spring day, the village of Norfolk is crisp and cloudless. Tucked away just off the green is Ruthann Olsson’s studio. The white clapboard building is where she performs her magic – taking simple white shades and turning them into works of art. Or creating an extraordinary border to wrap around a sumptuous ceiling for one of her many clients. Or perhaps she is sketching out a design for a ceiling or wall mural.

“When I was a little girl growing up in Michigan, my mother showed me these drawings that she had made. I thought they were the most wonderful things in the world and I decided that I wanted to draw, too. And that’s what I did.”

Olsson attended Kansas City Art Institute and went to work at Hallmark, first in the art department and then moved on to advertising. Marriage brought her to New York City where she continued to take painting classes and study art. When she and her husband decided to move to Norfolk, Connecticut, her encounter with one of the most important interior designers of the twentieth century led her to the next phase of her life.

“I was extremely lucky,” explained Olsson. “My husband and I were friendly with John Saladino and his wife, who lived in Norfolk as well. When I decided to start painting for a living, John immediately hired me and I began doing decorative painting for him. He was truly an excellent mentor and responsible for my success in the business.”

Olsson continued to do work for Saladino as well as other designers including Peter Marino and Thierry Despont. Word spread about her talents and her extraordinary sense of color and she has been working steadily ever since she moved to Norfolk 45 years ago.

“The decorative painting morphed into other projects,” said Olsson. “People would hire to do color specifications for their houses. Wearing the two hats of designer and creator of custom decoration sets me apart as an interior designer and allows me the ability to present a broad spectrum of options to my clients.”

Ruthann Olsson Interior Arts and Design offers expertise in three areas of custom decoration: the painted shade, the painted rug, and architectural trompe l’oeil. Additionally she will take on an entire house or apartment and supply everything from original concepts for new construction, project management, color plan, and spatial arrangements. But the painting aspect is still her favorite. The custom-made lampshades are amazing as are her painted rugs.

And speaking of painting, the one thing Olsson laments is that her successful business keeps her from her personal art.

“I don’t have much time to paint anymore,” she said. “I am the founder of a group of artists called Norfolk Artists and Friends, a membership organization of professional artists living and working in this area of northwestern Connecticut. Our members embrace a wide variety of visual arts including, but not limited to, painting, sculpturing, photography, jewelry and decorative arts.”

The group presents an annual exhibition at the Battell Stoeckel Gallery in Norfolk. This year it will take place from August 5th to August 7th, with an opening reception on the first night. As the date approaches, Olsson will need to carve out time to create art for the event. She is so busy that she has not had time to think about what she will be showing.

“I love the work, the people I get to meet and deal with, the designs they enable me to create. For me the glass is always half full,” Olsson said. But in listening to her talk it appears that her life is definitely filled to the top. For more on Norfolk Artists & Friends visit