Community member Cindy Nelson pursues a wide variety of mediums — beading, glasswork, metalsmithing, mosaics and painting — and encourages others to explore their own creativity as a means of expression.
As a youth, she learned embroidery, sewing and other needle-based work from her mother and grandmother. But it wasn’t until 2001, when at 38 and working full time as a medical technologist she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that she began nurturing her creativity as an adult.
“I switched to working part time and needed activities to fuel my creativity,” she said.
Reviving the needle art she learned from the women in her life, she began playing with beaded and stitched jewelry, teaching herself more and more advanced techniques. Today she refers to herself as a bead weaver, using high quality Japanese glass beads to stitch patterns and make designs, often incorporating precious stones and buttons as she weaves.
“I love all aspects of stitching with my hands, creating new pieces of art outside of the normal stitches and modifying stitches to make a new piece of art,” she said.
Comfortable with her beadwork, Nelson began experimenting with fused glass and when she came upon dichroic glass, started incorporating that into her pendant designs.
“Fused glass is interesting in that you never really know what will come out of the kiln,” she said. “It’s the work of the art, with the kiln making its own recipe in a way and you learn to embrace the result.”
Confident in her beading and glasswork, Nelson began working with mosaics, using stained glass, pottery and tiles to create geometric and non-geometric designs by applying the pieces to a background, filling it in and grouting. Learning by reading art books and making small soap dishes and candleholders early on, she created her first mosaic design — a plate titled “Medicine Wheel” — for Bunnell’s annual plate project, her rendition of the plains Native American medicine wheel.
“I love sitting at my design table and nipping glass,” Nelson said. “It’s very methodical, meditative and peaceful.”
The next medium she pursued was oil painting.
“I was in awe of how painters can take paint out of a tube, put in on a canvas and make beautiful landscapes,” she said.
After taking several local classes, she joined the Virtual Art Academy, an online art school that offers four-year, go-at-your-own-speed courses, and learned about color and composition and painting techniques.
Painting with oil and plein air, a French term for painting outside and playing with colors, textures and light, Nelson has now for the past year been pallet knife painting, applying paint to a canvas with a flat knife instead of a paintbrush.
“I love the smooth, buttery texture of the paint and what I can do with a knife verses a brush,” she said. “Painters like to make that beautiful stroke with a paintbrush and I like to make it with my favorite knife.”
Her most recent creative endeavor is metalsmithing, inspired after taking a beginner’s workshop with Homer artist Art Koeninger. Now she is finding ways to combine her traditional glass and bead jewelry with copper and bronze metals.
“There are so many techniques and skills when working with metal,” Nelson said. “The metal has chemical aspects with the solvents and acids and the various processes give beauty, individuality and depth to each piece.”
Finding inspiration in other artist’s work, Nelson also searches online and browses magazines for ideas.
“Bunnell recently hosted an artist who made mosaic signs with aluminum and I loved her work and thought it simple and organic and something that I’d like to try incorporating into a mosaic,” Nelson said.
Sometimes an image will resonate with her and she will feel the desire to produce or reproduce it using her own creative spin.
“Years ago I created ‘Summer Breeze’, a mosaic that depicted a contemplative woman in a long dress walking in a field of grass, inspired by the turn of the century woman of some impressionistic artists,” she said.
Whatever medium she is working in, Nelson unleashes her creativity in her home studio where she often spends six or more hours a day. In this space are kilns, cutters, saws, grinders, paint, a sewing machine, a metal snipping station, tables, chairs, storage totes and bins, cabinets for glass that she built, miscellaneous shelving, lamps and other items.
Born in Washington state, Nelson got her bachelor’s degree in medicine with an emphasis on laboratory medicine. In 2004, after her M.S. diagnosis, she sold her home, packed up her belongings and drove the Alaska Highway to live with a friend in Anchorage. She moved to Homer a year later, bought a house and has worked in the lab at South Peninsula Hospital on a casual, part-time basis for the last 17 years.
“Homer inspires my creativity all the time,” she said. “Living in a small town where I don’t work full time and am semi-retired, my life is calm and I can get out and see more of the views and step back and enjoy the simplest of things, like watching a windstorm out my window with the empty branches moving. Maybe I’ll paint that.”
Nelson has exhibited her jewelry at Ptarmigan Arts since 2007, her glasswork since 2009 and her paintings since 2018. In 2012, she had her first solo exhibit at Ptarmigan and has since that time participated in numerous solo and collaborative exhibits at the gallery as well as at Bunnell Street Arts Center, Grace Ridge Brewing, Homer Council on the Arts, Latitude 59, the Pratt Museum & Park and the gallery at South Peninsula Hospital. Earlier this month, she was the featured Pop Up artist at Ptarmigan, showcasing her new bead and metal jewelry.
“It was fun to interact with people who haven’t seen my work in a while and to put myself out their with this medium that is new to me,” she said. “I also got to see what pieces people like so I can work on those for next summer’s inventory.”
Eager to continue learning and expanding her creativity, Nelson will be taking an intermediate metalsmithing class in the coming weeks.
“I see more and more metalsmithing classes in my future,” she said.
While she pursues her own creativity, Nelson also enjoys encouraging others to express themselves artistically. On the board of Homer Council on the Arts for 12 years, she coordinated the Nutcracker Faire and Street Faire and the organization’s first Fun with 5×7 exhibit that is in its sixth year and is open to community members of all ages. She has also taught classes and workshops locally in bead stitching and mosaics.
“Who I am has really flourished here and I like to help nurture creativity in all the young and/or emerging artists because I was an emerging artist at one time,” she said. “Homer embraces art tremendously and I believe that everyone is an artist to some extent. I hope that anyone who wants to try their hand at a medium feels welcome to do so here.”