The MASTER OF ART
BY DONNA CRARY
Olga Hamilton feels right at home as she points out her paintings, drawings and photographs that are displayed at the historic 1895 Church of Art in Downtown Stuart. Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, she never imagined that one day she would become a professional artist. And today, she feels very fortunate to do what she loves, creating beautiful works of art.
“In the United States, you have freedom of expression,” she explains. “In the Soviet Union, all artists were employed by the government. No one could open their own business, including the artists. They couldn’t sell their artworks on their own, but only through the government. Art is self expression, but this word along with individuality was not welcomed unless it conformed with the Communist Party doctrine. You didn’t even own yourself!”
Hamilton was born in the town of Guryevsk in the Kuzbass region of Russia. As a small child, her mother instilled in her a love for arts and crafts, especially painting and drawing.
“Watercolors were made with honey at that time,” she fondly recalls. “Yes, I was licking the brushes! I also loved drawing. From the first time that they gave me pencils, they had to watch me because I was drawing everything on the walls.”
Hamilton’s grandfather unwittingly helped her discover her talents as a young artist. When she was 4 years old, he babysat her while family members went shopping. When he fell asleep in his chair, Hamilton pulled out her watercolors and began to paint a masterpiece.
“When my family returned and my grandpa opened the door, they started to laugh because his face was painted yellow, blue, and a little bit of green,” she says looking back on those days. “That’s when my mom said, ‘My goodness, you look like a Van Gogh painting!’ These colors are still my favorite.”
While growing up in Guryevsk, she developed her artistic side by taking classes at the Palace of Culture, an educational center that provided enriching activities for Soviet children. When she graduated from high school at 16, her high school teachers strongly encouraged her to study history in college. But Hamilton had other ideas. Wanting to work in the entertainment business, she earned a master’s degree in directing and theatrical production from the Kemerovo State University of Culture and Arts.
“During my university years, occasionally, I had to do stage and costume designs,” she says. “I also taught world history of arts and culture to high school students. After receiving my master’s degree, I worked as a manager of an advertising agency, and later accepted a director of audience position with a state theater.”
In 2006, the former Olga Astapova married an American named Robert Hamilton on a cruise ship. Shortly afterward, she left her hometown in Russia, which was in a metropolitan area that offered an abundance of culture, and the newlyweds moved to a farm in Okeechobee. Hamilton was immediately taken by the variety of wildlife that she saw. With a camera in hand, she began to study the beauty of nature up close through a lens.
“I’m on the porch, and I say, ‘Robert, there are parrots on the tree!’ And he said, ‘No, that’s a Painted Bunting,’” she says. “I don’t recall seeing a squirrel in my Siberian city. So, here are all these critters, and of course, I wanted to take their pictures — huge dragonflies, grasshoppers, spiders — and that’s when I got interested in macro photography.”
Hamilton and her husband moved to Stuart in 2012 and began working in event photography. It was during this time that the couple attended an event at Osceola 32 Gallery run by Rachel Goldberg and Michael Gordon Penn. Hamilton remembers being instantly drawn to an amazing group of international artists. As she spent more time at the gallery, she became exposed to art in different mediums and styles.
“The more I was around them, it pushed me to create more of my digital art,” she recalls. “At the same time, I would look at the paintings, and I thought, ‘I need to pick up a brush.’ But I was so hesitant because it was such a long time ago.”
Robert Hamilton gave his wife the push that she needed when he brought home a 50-bottle acrylic paint set that he happened to find on the side of the road. Not wasting any time, she soon began her journey back into the world of painting and drawing.
Today, Hamilton enjoys working with acrylics, soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, India ink, colored pencils and mixed media as a combination of different mediums and techniques. She also enjoys creating digital art.
“My artworks are diverse in medium, color, techniques, styles and subject matter,” she says. “They range from whimsical to philosophical and from abstract to more realistic representations.”
Hamilton’s passion for art, history, and her community led her and her husband to acquire a building that once housed Stuart’s first community church built in the 1800s. She says that she fell in love with the building, which the couple has named the 1895 Church of Art. They plan to turn it into an art gallery and a venue to host exhibits and weddings.
During her upbringing, the Soviet Union’s tight controls could not squelch Olga Hamilton’s drive toward self-expression, which she so freely celebrates today in a local, historical setting.
“Art helps me to distract myself from everything,” she says. “It helps me to unwind and reboot my brain. It’s me-time; it’s me and my piece of art in whatever I am doing.”
Occupation: Photographer with a paint brush
Lives in: Stuart
Family: Husband, Robert Hamilton
Education: Master’s degree in directing and theatrical production from the Kemerovo State University of Culture and Arts
Hobbies: “I love knitting, sewing, gardening, and traveling.”
Who inspires you: “Poets, writers, and my fellow artists. In Martin County, we have a wonderful group of artists, the Martin Artisans Guild.”
Something most people don’t know about you: “Deep inside me is an introvert who enjoys Charles Baudelaire’s poetry and Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings.”