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 Ceramics: Form & Surface

Glenn C. Nelson Exhibit:
Show at the Tweed Museum of Art highlights a life and a legacy

Selected pieces from the Glenn C. Nelson Collection are on display at UMD’s Tweed Museum of Art until November 7, 2010. The show, entitled “Form & Surface,” contains Nelson’s own work, the work of former students, and pieces that he acquired in his travels. It is especially timely, as the show also serves as tribute to Nelson who passed away in April at the age of 96.

Glenn Nelson Bowl
Bowl by Glenn C. Nelson. 1951, high fired earthenware, twice fired Alkaline glaze, artificial reduction.

The ceramics in the show vary from functional objects to art pieces. Initially, some of the work may appear commonplace to the modern eye, suggesting forms and patterns that one might see in stores and galleries today. Yet, when one notes that many pieces date from the 1950s, it becomes obvious that these works were revolutionary in their time, and launched a whole new way of imaging and creating ceramic pieces.

"The Glenn Nelson collection marks a very important period in the development of ceramic arts. Nelson was a promoter of the idea that sculptural form and modern design were key within the purview of the fine art of clay. His collection bears evidence of his vision and was assembled to show the open possibilities of the art form particularly by artists of the 60's thru 80's from around the world," said Ken Bloom, director of the Tweed Museum of Art.

The Tweed Museum of Art is free and open to the public. For hours, directions, and exhibit information, visit the Tweed’s website

A Remarkable Career
Nelson came to UMD in 1956 having been persuaded by his friend, Orazio Fumugalli, the first curator of the Tweed, to establish the ceramics program for the UMD Art Department. Until his retirement in 1975, Nelson taught hundreds of students, inspiring them with his love of ceramics and as a result, turned UMD and Duluth into a major center for ceramic education and production. Many of his students established significant careers as studio potters and educators, among them are Robert Eckels, David Frank, Walter Hylek, and William Wold. Many who stayed in and around Duluth helped secure its reputation as an arts-rich city. Among those are Robert DeArmond, Bob Husby, Cheryl Husby, Pat Joyelle, Allen Noska, John Steffl, and Carnita Tuomela.

Glenn C. Nelson
Glenn C. Nelson
Glenn Nelson Large Footed Bowl
Large Footed Bowl by Glenn C. Nelson. 1956, stoneware, glaze
Glenn Nelson Floor Pot
Floor Pot by Glenn C. Nelson. c. 1974, stoneware, wheel-thrown

In 1957, Nelson wrote Ceramics: A Potter’s Handbook. Five editions of the book were published, the last one in 1984. This seminal guide described and illustrated techniques, clay and glaze formulas, and examples of ceramics from around the world. It was his love and knowledge of world-wide ceramic work that established Nelson’s international reputation as an authority on ceramics.

With assistance from University of Minnesota Research Grants, Nelson traveled to Japan, Korea, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark in the ‘70s, studying ceramic practices and acquiring works. In 1993, he presented the Tweed Museum of Art with a gift of over one hundred pieces from his personal collection, which today forms the core of an outstanding public resource of international post-war ceramic art. A few years later, Nelson established a fund which allows the Tweed to purchase ceramics. "The Tweed continues to collect according to the vision of Glenn Nelson," Bloom said.

A Remarkable Life
Nelson was born in 1913 in Racine, Wisconsin and started painting after high school. He first studied with Walter Burt Adams of Evanston, IL. Nelson took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began exhibiting there, and opened a small art supply store.

He was drafted in 1940, serving with the Amphibious Engineers in the South Pacific during World War II. On his return, Nelson earned a B.S. degree in Art Education from Milwaukee State Teachers College (1949), and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, where he was hired as a ceramics instructor (1954). He left the University of Iowa in 1956 to teach at UMD.

Nelson married Edith (Edie) McIntyre in 1960. She was described as a supportive force behind all of Nelson’s efforts. Edie Nelson passed away in 1987. The couple had no children.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

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