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Professional Experience:

*Current: Full time designer and maker of furniture

*Retired from Duke University (2010) where he was a Professor of Radiation Oncology

*Prior positions include: Chair of the Radiation Oncology Department, The University of Arizona; Faculty member, Harvard University; Chair of Radiation Oncology, Health Care International, Glasgow, Scotland

*Research Physicist, Wesleyan University

Selected Professional Achievements:

*Listed in “Best Physicians in America” and “Best Doctors in North Carolina” for many years.

*Elected to Fellowship in the American College of Radiology and the American Society for Radiation Oncology

*Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha, and Sigma Xi Honor Societies

*Over 120 publications and book chapters; 2 patents


* M..D., The University of Arizona

*Ph.D., Physics, The Johns Hopkins University

*B.A., Mathematics and Physics, St. Olaf College


James Oleson has taken many art courses in drawing and oil painting through the years, and since 1980 he has focused on designing and making furniture as his art medium. He has made most of the furniture in his home.

In recent years he attended workshops relating to furniture design and making with Rosanne Somerson (Anderson Ranch), Teri Masaschi (Center for Furniture Craftsmanship), Jeff Jewitt (Marc Adams School of Woodworking), Michael Fortune (Anderson Ranch), Paul Schurch (Marc Adams School of Woodworking), and Brent Skidmore (Haystack Craft School).

An image of his mesquite buffet was published by Lark Press in “500 Cabinets”.An image of his “Bristlecone Pine Marquetry Cabinet” was published in “Rooted”, Schiffer Press, 2015.

Custom furniture design and making has been a very productive and full-time commitment since he retired as a Radiation Oncologist in 2010.

After many years of furniture making, he is now focussing on making abstract sculptural objects.


My first furniture creations were plywood beds for my children, clearly utilitarian objects designed for specific functions. As I continued to design and make furniture my vision began to change and I saw the object as composed of related shapes, lines, and curves in three dimensions – a sculptural object that embodied aesthetic ideas.

I imagine a shape, abstract or suggested by nature, and then make sketches with many variations in order to develop the design. After the basic design is established I go through a problem solving exercise involving selection of materials, defining structural and mechanical requirements, and satisfying functional needs. This problem solving process provides intellectual stimulation and great satisfaction.

I prefer a spare and elegant aesthetic that incorporates relatively few decorative accents. I use woods that have intrinsic beauty of color and grain to reinforce the design concept. With each piece I enjoy exploring the use of a new material, technique, or design, and this has enabled me to continually develop and expand my skills.

A successful work intrigues the eye, arouses curiosity, and draws one closer to the object. It also stimulates an irresistible urge in the viewer to touch the work.

I believe that the quality and uniqueness of the design helps to determine the placement of a work on the continuum from craft to art. I strive to create works displaying a high level of craftsmanship that also embody the fundamental principles of art: harmony, rhythm, and balance.


With the exception of jewelry boxes and cutting boards which I produce on spec, I design and make furniture for clients on commission. The process begins with your contacting me to discuss the nature of the piece you wish to have designed. I will offer some initial design concepts and drawings and if you do decide to order a piece I will ask for a down payment to cover design and material costs. The final payment is due prior to delivery of the item.

James R. Oleson

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