Back To His Roots

Back To His Roots

Leather worker finds new niche in wood


Most people know Jim Nelson as the proprietor of Nelson’s Leather, a Eureka Springs landmark for more than 40 years. But a couple of years ago, two things changed: Nelson’s Leather became just Nelson’s, bringing together at 37 Spring St. all of Nelson’s various business enterprises. At the same, Nelson carved out space for his own studio at his home at 83 Lookout Circle and returned to his roots. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas in Lawrence and a master’s degree from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., both in painting and drawing.

It was at Syracuse that Nelson decided he was probably not going to pursue a career in teaching art, and he and wife Susan, whom he met at KU, became “hippie leather workers.” They opened their first shop in Fayetteville in 1974, then moved to Eureka Springs a few months later — leaving Bruce Walker behind to run the Dickson Street store that he rebranded Flying Possum.

“Occasionally I would revisit the art world, mostly doing realistic paintings of landscapes, portraiture of neighbors, friends, associates,” Nelson says, “then it was back to ‘nose to the grindstone’ on the business.”

It was when Nelson and his wife built a new home that he found a new niche for his artwork. His big walls needed big art, he explains, and he started carving large bass wood abstractions using chainsaws and hand tools. To that, he added the “best artist-grade acrylic [paint] money can buy” in a process he calls “kind of improv.”

“The carving kind of runs its own show and dictates where the paint ought to go,” he says. “It’s all brush painted, not air sprayed. I’ve done several hundred pieces, and I’ve never seen anything quite like them.”

Nelson knows that Eureka Springs is filled with artists creating unique work, and he thinks seeing where they do that adds to the enjoyment of it.

“You get to see their process and hear the music they listen to and see the light they like to work in” on a studio tour, he explains, and that’s why he and Larry Mansker are hosting one from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1-2. It’s not a new concept, he says, but this particular one hasn’t happened for a couple of years, and they agreed it was time.

“I’ve been making a living at art since I got out of school. I am an artist,” says Mansker, a painter. “I’ve done everything — I’ve done murals, portraits, I used to be in advertising. I’ve sent work all over the world.

“But Eureka Springs is a really creative community.

“I create art to tell a story,” he adds. “In my paintings the elements of design — line, texture, contrast, composition and color — are foremost, but also very important is creating a mood — for me, a happy mood, one that focuses on the brighter aspect of being alive.”

Mansker’s studio is at 711 Mill Hollow Road.



Eureka Artist

Studio Tour

WHEN — 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 1-2

WHERE — Various studios in Eureka Springs

COST — Free

INFO — Email

BONUS — Also participating in the studio tour are Eleanor Lux, 18 White St.; Julie Kahn Valentine, 791/2 Spring St.; Jody Stephenson and Ron Lutz, 335 W. Van Buren St.; Lorna and Craig Trigg Hirsch, 872 Mill Hollow Road; Diana Harvey, 312 Carroll County 309; Denise Ryan, 19 Elk St.; Phyllis Plumley, 164 N. Main St.; and Stephen Feilbach, 44 Kings Highway.

Categories: Galleries