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He’s the ‘Kaleidoscope Man’

By Staff | Jun 3, 2011

Leonard Olson works on a frog puzzle recently at the Kaleidoscope Factory in Pomeroy. Kaleidoscopes, wood puzzles and toys are his mainstay products.

POMEROY – It is said big things come in small packages, and that is just the case with what can be found in downtown Pomeroy.

As one makes one’s way through Pomeroy, the school and the large elevator are obvious, but be careful not to miss what is possibly the town’s most interesting business – The Kaleidoscope Factory.

Leonard Olson grew up in rural Pomeroy and after some time away, working within the insurance business, an unfortunate change of events led to his way back home.

Olson said it was while recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery some friends brought him a kaleidoscope, a gift that brought a lot of enjoyment to those caring for him as well visiting him in the hospital.

This led to taking up woodworking as part of his rehabilitation, with his first woodworking tool purchase of a lathe.

Cynthia Binyon is a residence artist this summer at the “College of Leonard” and is teaching a rag rug weaving class.

He started making wooden toys and eventually, through building his inventory, his fun creations expanded to include kaleidoscopes.

Olson is completely self taught and learned much of his craft for woodworking through not only reading books, but through the Internet, as well.

During this time, Olson decided to make his way back to rural Iowa and has been at his current location, in downtown Pomeroy, he guesses, “for several years or so now.”

His first studio and showroom was located at the old Palmer school building in Palmer before he purchased the old 1890s drugstore in Pomeroy and moved there.

A few years later, Olson purchased the building next door and has expanded into it, which includes the Pomeroy Artisan’s Gallery where he does his work and displays all of his products.

One of the countless images from one of the kaleidoscopes.

The store also is home to “The College of Leonard,” where he and guest artists hold art classes.

For this summer, “The College of Leonard,” is hosting a summer artist in residence, Cynthia Binyon.

Binyon, of Bisbee, Ariz. will be teaching students how to weave your own rag rug and is planning on being in Pomeroy through Labor Day weekend.

Although the classes have already started, Binyon encourages anyone interested in learning the art of rag rug making, anyone wanting to see the process, to come on in and see her and her loom which is set up in the back room of the Kaleidoscope Factory.

Olson has also been teaching other classes at “The College of Leonard,” with most recently a class on silk scarf marbling.

A few of the many styles of kaleidiscopes created by Leonard Olson.

When it comes to constructing his creations, passersby can watch as his workshop is set up in a store front with piles of fresh saw dust and a smell that could take many back to the day of being in grandpa’s work shop.

At any given time when Olson is at the store, he can be seen making all sorts of his creations which are for sale at the Kaleidoscope Factory.

These include not only several different makes of kaleidoscopes, but kaleidoscope kits, wood puzzles, wood toys, “Magic Pixie Dust Dispensers,” wood buttons, magic wands, fused glass and other items.

Olson said there is a benefit to the wood toys he builds – problem solving.

Many of the toys available for children today, Olson believes, is teaching them to be computer operators with a “push a button, get a reaction,” mode of play.

By contrast, his wood toys are designed to stimulate the parts of the brain necessary for problem solving.

“They (children) need problem solving (skills) and that is the focus of all of the toys,” said Olson.

When it comes to making kaleidoscopes, Olson said he buys the brass, glass and acrylic parts, but makes the wood cylinder of the kaleidoscope, without patterns or templates, from all kinds of wood.

No stains or dyes are used on the wood, the colors are natural and only pure tung oil is used as a finish.

The actual time to put a kaleidoscope together may only take an hour, but there is a long process involved to get to that point.

“I’ve found that kaleidoscopes provide a valuable metaphor on life,”?Olson wrote on his website.

“Just when you think you’ve encountered the most beautiful image possible in a kaleidoscope, a slight shift will change everything.

“At first, you may feel very disappointed as theoretically, that image will never ever again appear.

“However, while different, the new image is also beautiful and you discover that more changes will produce still more beautiful images.

“Soon you learn to let yourself go and just look forward to what will happen next.”

For more information on Olson and the Kaleidoscope Factory visit: www.kaleidoscopefactory.com or visit him just one block west of the water tower in downtown Pomeroy.

He is usually there after 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and after 10 a.m. on Saturdays, but suggests using the contact information on his website to ensure a time to check out the store.

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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