Obituary of Glenn Nelson: Artist, mentor and author

Clay is the very common but unique material that makes ceramics possible.” — Glenn Nelson.

Yesterday, I came upon Mr. Nelson’s obituary from the Tweed Museum of Art site. His seminal work, Ceramics: A Potter’s Handbook, was my bible at university and it remains a terrific resource for me. Glenn Nelson was such an important figure in the ceramics field, I thought you might like to learn more about his life from this lovely tribute.


(reprinted from the Tweed Museum of Art site.)

Artist, educator and author Glenn C. Nelson died on Saturday, April 17, 2010, in Naples, Florida, six weeks shy of his 97th birthday. Nelson was born May 30, 1913 in Racine, Wisconsin. He was the only child of Nels and Bertha Nelson.

Nelson started painting after high school, and first studied with Walter Burt Adams of Evanston, IL. He 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 BS degree in Art Education from Milwaukee State Teachers College (1949), and an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he was hired as a Ceramics instructor (1952). Nelson went to the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD) in 1956 to establish a ceramics program. He taught undergrad and graduate students, created his own art, collected examples of ceramics for the university’s Tweed Museum of Art, and authored the book Ceramics.

Glenn Nelson and Edith (Edie) McIntyre were married in 1960. She was secretary to his friend David Campbell, head of the American Craft Council and director of the Museum of American Crafts. A supportive force behind all of Nelson’s efforts, Edie Nelson died in 1987.  The couple had no children.

Nelson’s considerable technical knowledge, understanding of international design, and aesthetic sensibilities were transmitted through his well-known book, Ceramics, which significantly raised the bar for ceramics education and studio practice. Five editions were published between 1957 and 1983, and it became a leading technical and design resource in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Along with practical information about materials and equipment, Nelson illustrated ceramic forms and modes of decoration from a range of global cultures.

Nelson was an influential teacher at UMD from 1956 to 1975. Many of his students and mentees established significant careers as studio potters and educators themselves, among them Bill Wold, Bob Eckels, David Frank, and Walter Hylek. Others stayed near Duluth, where they have helped secure its reputation as an arts-rich city – Bob DeArmond, John Steffl, Allen Noska, Carnita Tuomela, Pat Joyelle, and Bob and Cheryl Husby.

Nelson’s collecting trips to Finland, Germany, Holland, Korea and Japan were sponsored by International Studies and Graduate School Research Grants from UMD. Along with works he collected on the university’s behalf, Nelson donated over one-hundred works from his personal collection to UMD’s Tweed Museum of Art in 1993, establishing it as an important midwest center for post-war ceramic art. Nelson also funded the museum’s first endowment for ceramic-based art, with which it continues to expand the collection.

Nelson’s ashes were interred next to his late wife’s in Garrison, New York, where she had grown up, and where they lived between 1975-87.   As per his wishes, a formal service was not held. Taps were blown by the VFW in his honor.


About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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