These sculptures are like multidimensional puzzles and I treat each piece of the puzzle as an individual work of art. I enjoy the intimacy of working with wood by hand. Being covered in sawdust and wood chips is a joyful part of the process. These sculptures are created from many kinds of wood: bass, birch, catalpa, western cedar, pine, fir, and maple. I select each piece of wood from a small family-run sawmill in rural Oklahoma. The thickness of these wooden slabs adds a substantial look and feel to the finished work. Every piece is hand waxed to insure the colors will remain vibrant. I refer to my current wooden wall art series “instrumentals”, that is, without figurative representation. I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto a way to combine my woodworking, painting and drawing in a unique, personal expression of what I find beautiful.
I grew up in the north St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and I spent a lot of time drawing cars, trees, old buildings, even my youngest brother, who would occasionally sit still for me. The art departments and teachers in my school district were exceptional. Every year I would endure summer school just so I could fit in art class the rest of the year. Class field trips to the St. Louis Art Museum so inspired and imprinted my young mind that I still seek out certain artworks when I visit the Museum today. Fortunately, my parents always encouraged and facilitated my interest in art. My father had artistic ability as did his mother who could draw and paint as well as play and teach piano.
I left St. Louis in 1965 to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. I started out in architecture, but found the math and science requisites overwhelming so I switched to painting and drawing my third year. I was in absolute heaven. I even met the love of my life, my future wife Susan, in a printmaking class. I received my BFA from KU in 1970, and went from there to Syracuse University in upstate New York where I got my MFA in 1972.
The next year, Susan and I moved to Minneapolis to work with Susan’s brother George in his leather goods store where we learned leather crafting and a bit of small business practice. After two years of long cold winters, we migrated to northwest Arkansas to open a leather shop on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Upon entering the world of self-employment, my painting and drawing activity pretty much ended and since 1974 I have concentrated on making a living primarily as a retailer in Eureka Springs, AR. I was convinced that the same creative energy used in producing art could be applied to the world of business. This belief must be true as Nelson Leather Company, our first retail venture was followed by Crazy Bone which opening in 1990, and two “Life is Good” brand clothing stores. During this time I dabbled in painting small oil portraits of friends and relatives, but the responsibilities and challenges of commerce prevailed.
In August 2005, Susan and I built a new home. Once we were moved in, the big bare walls cried out for art. Inspired, I started making pencil sketches for a wooden wall piece to be placed in the entry hall. Michael Holt, a woodworker friend, agreed to fabricate the piece. We installed it in late 2006 and I have been creating these wall sculptures ever since.
The individual parts of each piece are carved, painted, stained, waxed and assembled in my studio in the lower level of our home, which is about a block away from the historic 1886 Crescent Hotel. I work with many kinds of wood: bass, birch, catalpa, western cedar, pine, fir, and maple. I hand select most of it from a small, family run sawmill in rural Oklahoma.
The wooden pieces are roughly an inch and a half thick which adds a substantial look and feel to them. The edges are usually painted and always hand waxed to insure the colors will remain vibrant. I brand each piece with my logo and signature. The large works are like multidimensional puzzles and I treat each piece of the puzzle as an individual work of art. The smaller works are made from odds and ends with no drawings needed. The pieces of the smaller works serve as experimental platforms for carving painting and staining. I refer to my current wooden wall art series “instrumentals”, that is, without figurative representation.
The finished work is on display at J. A. Nelson Gallery at 37 Spring Street in the Eureka Springs historic district. I enjoy the intimacy of working with the wood by hand. Being covered in sawdust and wood chips is a joyful part of the process. I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto a way to combine woodwork, painting and drawing in a unique, personal expression of what I find beautiful. I am a lucky guy. I have found my own personal voice after all these years and I look forward to exploring the unfolding path ahead.
How He Does What He Does
Why He Does What He Does