School of Art mourns passing of Dr. Robert Nelson, former instructor and artist
A few days ago we received the sad news of the December 2nd death of Dr. Robert Nelson, artist and former instructor at the School of Art from 1953 to 1956. The work of the 96-year-old artist was the cornerstone of our summer exhibition, Surrealist Suggestions, and curator Lindsay Inglis traced his influence on local artists and the critical role of his brief presence in shaping the development of art in Winnipeg.
Robert Allen Nelson was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1925, and at the time of his death lived on a small rural property at Lakeside, Oregon, with his wife Louise, and their many dogs, horses, donkeys, barn cats and parakeets.
Nelson arrived in Winnipeg in 1954 a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. At the age of 28, he was the youngest faculty member at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art. In the catalogue for the exhibition, Art in Winnipeg 1955 to 1959, Ann Cameron wrote that Nelson was an iconoclast who was willing to shock the public with his experimentalism and jazz roots. He built a closeness to his students, who included Ivan Eyre, Herbie McPherson, Winston Leathers, Barrie Nelson, Bruce Head, Don Reichert and McLeary Drope, amongst others, which was facilitated by their proximity in age and by dint of Nelson’s generosity with his time, knowledge, and resources.
Many decades have passed since his 1956 departure from Winnipeg to Fargo, where he took up duties at the University of North Dakota. Nelson went on to earn a Doctorate in Education at the University of New York, before continuing his teaching career at Cleveland State University, then at the University of Cleveland and finally, at Millersville University, which named him Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 1997.
Robert Nelson was represented for many years by the Karen Anderer Fine Art Gallery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where his final exhibition opened this past October. At that time, owner operator Karen Anderer declared, “This latest new collection has exceeded my biggest expectations. This is not only the best work I have ever exhibited, but it was done at the age of 96. He is getting better and better. More detailed, more accurate, stronger coloring, I think it’s much more complicated, like himself.”
In 1951, Robert Nelson was awarded the Cezanne medal from the government of France, and in 1979, he received the prestigious Purchase Prize at the Boston Printmakers 31st National Exhibition. Nelson’s work is included in the permanent collections of numerous major museums including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), the National Gallery of Art, (Washington, DC), the Seattle Art Museum (Washington), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), the DeCordova Museum (Boston), the Brooklyn Museum (New York), the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Minnesota), the Cleveland Museum of Art (Ohio), the Millersville University, (Pennsylvania), the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba, (Manitoba), and the Plains Art Museum (North Dakota).
A celebration of Robert Nelson’s life will take place in Lancaster, PA, and will be announced in the New Year through Karen Anderer Fine Art.