Art and history: Olais exhibit up at local gallery

Raymond Olais of North Newton paints at his home. He’ll give a talk at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 9, at The Carriage Factory Art Gallery, 128 E. Sixth St. in Newton. There is no cost to attend the program, called “Every Mural Tells a Story.” Wendy Nugent/Harvey County Now

By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now

NEWTON—Raymond Olais calls himself an art-cheologist.

That’s because he uses art to find information about the past.

It all started when he and his wife, Patrice, used likenesses from photos for the mural they painted in 1978 for the 30th anniversary of the Newton Mexican-American Men’s Fast pitch Softball Tournament, and that caused him to ponder the images’ history.

“The images in the mural inspired me to dig deeper,” Olais said.

The Olaises have an art show in Koehn Gallery at The Carriage Factory Art Gallery, 128 E. Sixth St. in Newton. Coinciding with that will be a talk Raymond will give on “Every Mural Tells a Story” at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 9, at the gallery. There is no cost to attend.

“Art-cheologist Raymond Olais will discuss how a mural painted 44 years ago to celebrate [the tournament] led to documenting the rich history of Newton’s Mexican community,” a talk flier stated.

Their art show, comprised of 24 pieces, will end Saturday, June 11.

“I still love that art part of it that inspired me,” Raymond said, adding he’s been inspired by Chicano artists.

The Olaises are retired Newton High School art teachers and they both keep busy.

“Sometimes I’m working on art,” Raymond said. “Sometimes, I’m working on historical stuff.”

The show represents work from their lives.

Patrice Olais of North Newton works on one of her sculptures Monday afternoon at her home. She and her husband Raymond have a show at The Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton through Saturday. Wendy Nugent/Harvey County Now

“It’s through all the years—past, present and in between,” Patrice said. “I guess you can add future because his has robots.”

Those robots are represented in sculpture and paintings, and their art has a cultural Hispanic connection/style.

Patrice has oil paintings in the show. She has all the equipment to do ceramics, like a wheel and kiln, in the garage. They’ve also worked on sculptures in the garage and basement.

“We just kind of work different places,” Raymond said. “I’ll work outside doing some sculpture work.”

This is the mural Raymond and Patrice Olais of North Newton painted in 1978 that inspired them to dig into the history of the Mex- ican-American community in Newton. Contributed photo

Raymond continues his research on the Mexican community in Newton. He said his June 9 talk will be a confluence of his art and historic research.

In the 1990s, the Olaises put on Mexican history displays for the fiesta after doing research.

The mural they did in 1978 tells the story about ballplayers, Raymond said. During the first year, they looked into Mexican bands that played from the 1920s through the 1970s. The second year included the ranchitos, as there were two camps in town. Raymond said workers lived near the tracks at one point with no housing provided by the railroad.

“Every year, we focused on something different,” Raymond said, adding other years included topics like ball players and the military. “There were just so many things you could delve into. That’s how that mural inspired the research. Instead of putting on art shows, we put on historical shows.”

This is an altar Raymond Olais did. Wendy Nugent/Harvey County Now

Shows were at various locations during the years, including the church, historical society and Kauffman Museum.

Raymond still gives presentations on the history of the Mexican community in Newton. During the last few presentations, he’s used the mural to tell the story.

“In essence, we did it backwards,” he said, adding they had the visuals but didn’t know the stories behind them.

Along those lines, Raymond is working on a chapter for a book on Mexican ball teams in Newton.

This year’s tournament is the 74th, and it’s the longest-running tournament of its kind in the country.

To keep his creativity flowing, Raymond also refurbishes items, like a vintage freestanding floor radio in their living room is a cabinet, and he’s repurposed tables.

Patrice is doing drawings and paintings.

“She’s always been a painter,” Raymond said.

In a dining/art area, the Olaises have a variety of artwork displayed, including a painting Patrice did of an altar, which was the first altar she created at art school in San Francisco.

Patrice Olais did this altar. Wendy Nugent/Harvey County Now

“That was the first of the start of many more,” Raymond said.

Patrice said it’s another way to do art.

In a guest bedroom/art studio, there’s a papier-mache sculpture of a ’55 Ford truck the Olaises drove packed with their belongings from San Francisco to Kansas in 1980.

Their lives

The Olaises met as students, him from California and her from Newton, at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and married in 1980, after they graduated from there but before attending Emporia State University to get their teaching certificates. While at SFAI, they recalled one of their first dates was in the school cafeteria between classes, where the most inexpensive things to eat were avocado sandwiches.

“We were part of an organization there that did activities,” Patrice said, as they were members of the arts collective.

The collective sponsored artists and had speakers, parties and openings.

“They would sponsor speakers and so we would go to those,” Patrice said. “They had all kinds of gallery connections, so that’s how we met through that.”

Eventually, as students, they ended up in the Mission District of San Francisco, which is the Hispanic district. Patrice worked at a Hispanic gallery, and Raymond, who is a Vietnam War-era Army veteran, was employed with the Veterans Administration since they gave jobs to vets. The VA also helped him with tuition.


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