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Courtesy of Ken Nelsen
Ken Nelsen has dabbled in almost every form of art, but his true passion is woodworking.
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Courtesy of Ken Nelsen
Ken Nelsen Art
Ken creates both utilitarian and decorative pieces. He prefers working with wood over clay or metal because of the living, changing, warm qualities of wood.
Ken Nelsen's Passion for wood-sculpting grew from a one-time experiment into his preferred medium.
“I grew up drawing, from my earliest memory,” says Maryville sculptor Ken Nelsen. His sketchbook accompanied him on squirrel hunts during childhood and throughout his high school years, but Ken never took an art class until he entered college after his military service. “My first sculpture course was like a trap waiting for me in the weeds, waiting to draw me in,” he says.
Sculpture seems an unlikely career for a man from a small Minnesota town, but Ken’s career in art proceeded naturally, with support from his family. “My parents came from the lower middle class,” he says. “They were happy to keep house and home together. They were pleased as punch to see me doing anything I could to get ahead.”
Ken began working as a sculptor during his time as an undergraduate, and later earned a master’s of fine arts and was a professor of art at Northwest Missouri State University from 1975 to 2001.
Thirty years ago, Ken encountered difficulty with a metal sculpture and decided that a wood element was needed to solve the problem. “I discovered that I really enjoyed working with wood, and I discovered that I had no idea how to work with it,” he says. Ken spent a year learning woodworking techniques, and that year turned into thirty. The living, changing, warm qualities of wood drew Ken to turn to this material from his former work with metal and clay.
Ken creates both custom furniture and decorative pieces, but his work now focuses on boxes made of bowl forms that use both hand- and machine-carved elements. The boxes are elegant, soft, and naturalistic, with the wood grain showing through translucent oil finishes that Ken rubs into them.
“In terms of the forms, I think of them as quiet forms,” he says, adding that his interest in the art and history of Asia, a subject he taught for years, may subtly influence the shapes of his sculptures.
Today, Ken is retired from teaching and continues to work in a studio just steps from his house.
Visit www.bestofmissourihands.com/kennelsen.htm for more information.