Except he was dressed in navy overalls — not a red suit. And, unless all the elves have the flu, Santa doesn't do the manual labor himself, does he?
Even so, at this time of year Olson calls his Kaleidoscope Factory — in tiny Pomeroy, Iowa — Santa's Workshop. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, he has been snowed under with orders for a variety of handmade wooden crafts — such as toy trains, puzzles and his trademark kaleidoscopes — all lovingly produced in the shop and classroom to which he welcomes visitors.
"This all was an offshoot of the hobby of woodworking," Olson explained as flurries dusted Pomeroy's Main Street on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Connect with us through Facebook! The latest news and information, promotions, and much more! Click here!
As a kid growing up on an Iowa farm during the 1950s and '60s, he played with one of the cardboard kaleidoscopes that were mass-produced in St. Louis. But as an adult, Olson never gave them a thought until he got one as a gift. He received it while lying in a hospital bed recuperating from quintuple-bypass surgery.
"I paid attention to their reactions," he said of the medical staff who eagerly took turns peering through the eyepiece of Olson's present.
Those reactions to the ever-changing images and colors were so intriguing that Olson decided to make a major life change. He swapped his career as a computer software writer for the equally creative — but far less stressful — job of kaleidoscope creator.
"The basic thing is, it's got to have mirrors in it," he said of his prized product. "A lot of people think it's a prism, but it's not. It's mirrors. All the kaleidoscopes I make have three mirrors."
Those pieces of glass, which he tapes together, are then inserted in a hand-turned wooden tube. Olson works with exotic woods that have enchanting names such as African padauk, cocobolo and zebrawood.
"They're front-surface mirrors," he added. "The mirror you look at on the wall every morning is a second-surface mirror. The silvering's on the back.
"Front-surface mirrors are used in good kaleidoscopes, single lens reflex cameras, good telescopes. It's expensive but it's well worth it, because it gives a bright, sharp image because there's no refraction of the light."
The remaining components are a clear glass marble, which acts as a fisheye lens, and, in some scopes, a clear-glass wand filled with colorful objects that float in front of the marble, evoking wonderment from the beholder.
Olson loves to share his skills with visitors to his shop. They come from all over the world, as evidenced by the scads of pushpins placed on a large map on one wall. This year he has had visitors from 26 states and six foreign countries.
A trip to Pomeroy, about 30 miles northwest of Fort Dodge, is worth it as much for a chat with the philosophical Olson as it is to see him craft his one-of-a-kind kaleidoscopes.
Olson is happy to share his craft-making skills, in everything from fused-glass jewelry to marbled silk scarves, in his back room. This is the living classroom for what he calls the College of Leonard. Its motto, as noted on the "college" crest, is "carpe diem," or "seize the day."
Seizing the day is something in which the always-optimistic Olson is well-versed. It's all about perception.
"I don't have bad days. I just have some days that are a lot better than others," he said.
"You look in a kaleidoscope, and you see a beautiful image. You pass it to your neighbor to look at it, and something's going to shift," he added. "Things are always changing. But the key point is that the next image is still pretty nice, too.
"So don't get too hooked on what you're doing now, because something good's still coming down the road. That's the metaphor on life that a kaleidoscope has."
What a wonderful gift from Santa.
If you go
The Kaleidoscope Factory (kaleidoscopefactory.com) is at 106 S. Main St. in Pomeroy, Iowa, a few miles north of U.S. Highway 20.
Leonard Olson welcomes visitors year-round. He keeps the "tours" link on his website updated as to when he's available. He's also happy to answer emails.
Olson invites folks to simply drop in for an "ad hoc" crafts class at the College of Leonard (collegeofleonard.com). However, he needs 10 days' notice for scarf-making classes. There are minimal charges for supplies.
Most of his kaleidoscopes are 91/2 inches long and sell for about $100, depending on the type of wood. They also can be ordered by mail.