Neilson


Making a Difference—One Lunch at a Time

December 11, 2017

On November 30, 2017, 34 St. Norbert College students visited St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter as part of their Sacred Art and Architecture class taught by art professor Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

“When they heard what was going on at the shelter, they all wanted to take part—they all wanted to do a little something and we decided let’s do something as a group, lets blend this into the class,” said Fr. Neilson.

The students donated money to make 80 bagged lunches for the shelter as well as dozens of backpacks and hoodies, something residents need at the shelter.

“This is a class that recognizes what is most sacred in the world is human dignity … and if we can help attend to that then we all feel like we’ve succeeded increasing our awareness of that which is truly sacred in the world,” said Fr. Neilson.

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St. Norbert College Art Faculty Triennial Exhibition

October 2, 2017

Priest-artist-teacher Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Priest-artist-teacher Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

From August 28 through September 22, 2017, Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem., professor of art at St. Norbert College, exhibited a collection of new sculptures in the Baer Gallery within the Bush Art Center on campus.

Artist Statement

Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

This collection of new work gives expression to my belief that we do well, always and everywhere, to deeply consider the value and beauty of that which seemingly might no longer be thought useful or attractive. In other words, I believe we too quickly remove and dispose of things that have much yet to say and reveal to the world. Therefore, I champion the use of materials that are wonderfully weathered and have been joyfully and seriously used, over and over again, so much so that they have achieved a patina only time can produce. It’s the incredible surface texture of “old things” that are beautiful to me; they declare they’ve been loved, needed, and used. This “memory” is worth preserving and I like to re-present such things as “three-dimensional collages.”

There is a definite and intentional element of “play” in the construction of many of these new works; far too often the “hard work of play” is downplayed (no pun intended!) when it comes to serious art—the very natural tendency we all exhibit as children to build things (forts with couch cushions, towers with boxes, etc.) is stifled too early in life. So in lieu of pulling out a can of Lincoln Logs, I collect objects and playfully build and unbuild new works until they seem to be “finished.”

I like the idea of unexpected juxtapositions; of ideas and materials that might seem contrary or contradictory, and seeing what happens when they’re bound together. For example, in Trypanophobia, I’ve combined syringes and hypodermic needles with 19th-century architectural spires (once part of a wooden altar in a Catholic church but discarded in a 1969 renovation project). To me, the shape of the spire, with its spear-point, anticipates the shape of the syringe and needle, inclining me to optimistically wonder how this particular shape suggests healing, restoration, and new life. This integration of objects of science and religion become a visual treatise in the goodness of a shared or mutual approach to living a happy, healthy life.

It’s the incredible surface texture of ‘old things’ that are beautiful to me; they declare they’ve been loved, needed, and used.

—Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

I have extended a decades-old inquiry into deaccessioned books as primary medium and am now exploring a new method of altering the appearance of the book to suggest new ways of being indebted to books as sources of inspiration, hope, and delight. Au is a “combine” wherein an old wooden drum (found in the trash outside a renovated foundry) holds a number of books revealing the gold-edges of the pages, with a nod to the art of Renaissance tondo paintings and the scientific process of discerning information via lateral cross-sections.

Ghost Town in an assemblage of materials gleaned from houses that once made up the neighborhood in and around the campus of St. Norbert College. Architectural elements from porches, staircases, and doorways are stacked and placed next to and upon wooden boxes and the remnants of an old circus-train to create a sculpture that evokes thoughts and ideas of small towns across the country and how “relics” of such old spaces-and-places can be preserved within a new work of art.

A Closer Look

Below are descriptions for each work of art.

Au

Au

Title: Au

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Books and Wood
Size of Work (H x W x D): 18 x 18 x 6
Insurance Value of Work: $200
Special Handling Requirements: None

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Title: Ghost Town

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Mixed Medium
Size of Work (H x W x D): 102 x 66 x 24
Insurance Value of Work: $500
Special Handling Requirements: None

Text Visualization

Text Visualization

Title: Text Visualization

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Books and Wood
Size of Work (H x W x D): 24 x 20 x 5
Insurance Value of Work: $200
Special Handling Requirements: None

The Jules Ferry Laws

The Jules Ferry Laws

Title: The Jules Ferry Laws

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Mixed Medium
Size of Work (H x W x D): 27 x 23 x 5
Insurance Value of Work: $250
Special Handling Requirements: None

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas

Easy Cake Decorating Ideas

Title: Easy Cake Decorating Ideas

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Mixed Media
Size of Work (H x W x D): 80 x 28 x 28
Insurance Value of Work: $100
Special Handling Requirements: Suspended from ceiling

Synesthesia

Synesthesia

Title: Synesthesia

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Mixed Medium
Size of Work (H x W x D): 60 x 36 x 5
Insurance Value of Work: $500
Special Handling Requirements: Heavy

Trypanophobia

Trypanophobia

Title: Trypanophobia

Artist: James P. Neilson, O. Praem.
Date of Work: 2017
Medium: Syringes, Needles, and Wood
Size of Work (H x W x D): Dimensions Variable
Insurance Value of Work: $500
Special Handling Requirements: Work is attached to shelves (that are attached to the wall)


More about Fr. Neilson

  • Colleague + Friend
    Lessons on Virtuous Friendship by Dr. Paul Wadell
    By Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Colleague + Friend

Lessons on Virtuous Friendship from Dr. Paul Wadell

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 10)

By Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Dr. Paul Wadell (left) and Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Dr. Paul Wadell (left) and Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Maybe it was his smooth Kentucky accent or the fact that he greeted, by name, every student who walked into class. I immediately knew my time spent with Dr. Paul Wadell as a grad student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago was going to be as enjoyable as it was instructive.

In a course referencing his own book, Friendship and the Moral Life, Paul’s class was more like an invigorating retreat with a group of friends than a series of lectures in a room of strangers. Exalting the virtues as essential components of true friendship, Paul revealed a glorious truth: Being in right relationship with others, cultivating and maintaining a circle of good friends, is nothing less than the very dream of God for each and every one of us.

He modeled for us in our teacher-student relationship the virtues to espouse in our own friendships:

Friendship and the Moral LifeGenerosity

Paul clearly spent a great deal of time in preparing his classroom lectures. They were always rich in facts, personal insights applicable to everyday life, and wonderfully articulated in the most conversational tone. Our lectures were conversations with and among friends.

Inclusivity

Paul received us in an atmosphere that valued spiritual understanding and wisdom. We learned that cultivating genuine and deep friendships facilitates the growth and development of the spirit.

Sharing

Paul invited us to consider a variety of ideas and insights by way of many voices. His recommended reading list was an introduction to new friends; that is, authors we might never know personally, but would know via their writings. Sharing books, authors, works of art, and artists with new and old friends, with colleagues and students, is a lesson in friendship I practice to this day.

I find a wealth of virtuous friendships at my home, St. Norbert Abbey. As confreres, we share intellectual pursuits, mutual respect, collaboration in liturgical celebrations, and warm and inviting conversations at table. Together we believe God’s triune nature is an experience of mutuality. Therefore, as those created in the image and likeness of God, we enjoy a natural orientation toward being in mutual relationship with others. In our friendships we strive to mirror on earth what we believe is the very reflection of God’s own and true self. Today my professor is my colleague at St. Norbert College. I count him as one of the single most influential educators in my life. And I treasure him as a friend.


Paul Wadell, Ph.D., is a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College. Read his America magazine article, “Not Settling for Less,” which started as a presentation for The Conrad J. Kratz, O. Praem. Abbey Lecture Series at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in 2014. He also has contributed to Abbey Magazinesee page 12 of the Spring/Summer 2016 issue for his thoughts on “A Ministry of Mercy.”

Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem., is a priest, artist, and teacher. He is an assistant professor of art at St. Norbert College. Read more about his varied ministries.

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