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New Hampton’s Nelson to be CCAC featured artist in July

  • Melissa Nelson, a New Hampton artist and high school art teacher, will be the featured artist of the month at the Charles City Arts Center. (Photo submitted.)

  • Melissa Nelson, a New Hampton artist and high school art teacher, will be the featured artist of the month at the Charles City Arts Center. (Photo submitted.)

  • Melissa Nelson, a New Hampton artist and high school art teacher, will be the featured artist of the month at the Charles City Arts Center. (Photo submitted.)

  • Melissa Nelson, a New Hampton artist and high school art teacher, will be the featured artist of the month at the Charles City Arts Center. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

A college art class changed the direction of New Hampton artist and teacher Melissa Nelson.

“At Marshalltown Community College I took a required class, and I enjoyed the class so much that I continued to take art classes along with my psychology classes,” said Nelson, who will be the featured artist at the Charles City Arts Center for the month of July. Her show of eclectic artwork covering a wide range of media is entitled “Unfinished/Finished 2.0.”

There will be a reception for Nelson at the CCAC at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 5, to kick off the month-long display.

“For this show I have been collecting work that is both finished and unfinished due to my philosophy of being an art educator,” Nelson said. “When teaching my students I rarely finish a piece of artwork as an example of what they are doing.”

A native of Union, Nelson turned her initial love of creating artwork in the classroom into a career as an artist and art teacher. While working at Lennox in Marshalltown, she finished her associate of arts degree at MCC and moved on to the University of Northern Iowa.

“I went to UNI to double major in art and psychology, and a few years after that I realized I wasn’t happy where I was,” she said. “So I went back to UNI to get my art education degree and I have been teaching since.”

Nelson returned to UNI in 2011, and graduated in 2014 with her degree in art education. She began teaching high school art in New Hampton that year. She returned to UNI for her master’s in art education, and just received that degree this past May. She will enter her sixth year of teaching art in New Hampton this fall.

“I decided I wanted to be able to teach dual credit art classes for college credit,” she said. “I am deeply interested in many media, and I try working in as many different ones as I can. Not only do I get to try new things myself, but I bring those media into my classroom as much as I can.”

Nelson said much of her creativity is fueled by her experiences as an educator.

“I’m inspired by my students, my fellow art educators online and in person, and by all that happens around me,” Nelson said.

The July display will be the second version of Nelson’s “Finished/Unfinished” show. The first was in February — her first solo show in five years. This display will have some of the same works, and new works and explorations of media that I have done since March.

CCAC Art Director Jacqueline Davidson said she believes Charles City art patrons will respond positively to Nelson’s work.

“She does a lot of abstract and she does some unusual types of art that I think will be appreciated by the community,” Davidson said. “We’re just really glad to have her in here to represent New Hampton.”

Nelson has a connection with the community and the arts center. She has taught classes here and “she has a lot of friends here in town, which is nice,” according to Davidson.

Nelson tries to teach her students that hard work and dedication lend as much to successful art as natural artistic talent.

“All too often I see that people view artwork as ‘magic,’ and that it’s totally talent-based, and without that talent you can’t be an artist,” she said. “When it’s seen in that light, all the hours, months, and years of practice and experiences are diminished. So I try to get my own students to understand that hard work and practice can get you more than talent.”

The “Finished/Unfinished” title of her show comes from her teaching background. When she “found a passion” for teaching students, Nelson said, she realized that if she made a piece of work all the way through, her student’s works looked like hers.

“I try to promote their own creative solutions to their work, by only doing enough to demonstrate the skills they need to finish the project,” she said. “This ensures that they know they need to finish solving the artistic problem of the artwork, and it ensures the building of their own voice in the work.”

Nelson describes herself as a “jack-of-all-trades” when it comes to making artwork, and so the display at the CCAC will have a little bit of everything.

“I teach many different media, so you’ll see a whole lot of different works in this show,” she said. “It will look like I have no true media, but my media really is teaching.”

While her emphasis in college was sculpture and printmaking, she said she will do, or try, almost anything that she thinks her students need or want to try.

“I believe that every person in the world is creative,” Nelson said. “It’s just that we need to be exposed to something that can spark that creative spirit within us.”

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