Carl Gustaf Nelson

born Hörby, Sweden 1898-died Elmhurst, IL 1988
Media - nelson_carl.jpg - 90097
Image is courtesy of the Carl Nelson papers, 1923-1989 in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Also known as
  • Carl Gustav Nelson
  • C. G. Nelson
  • Carl Gustaf Simon Nelson
  • Carl Nelson
Hörby, Sweden
Elmhurst, Illinois, United States
Active in
  • Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Carl Nelson’s slender frame, wiry white beard, and flamboyant clothing made him instantly recognizable on Maine’s Cranberry Island. He had retired from teaching in Boston and become a beloved member of the island community, where friends praised his excellent cooking and gardening. During the Depression, Nelson lived in New York, surviving on a tiny paycheck from the Works Progress Administration. He later recalled the casual nature of the government’s job offer: “My phone rang one afternoon & I was asked . . . if I would like to go to work the following morning.” During his long career, he exhibited his work in important group shows, including the Whitney Biennial. Several of the country’s top art museums acquired Nelson’s paintings, and he taught for decades. Six years before his death, he wrote a letter to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, stating “I have lived the happiest of lives between teaching and painting.” (Carl G. Nelson to Susanne Owens, April 25, 1982, SAAM curatorial file)

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.