From the Archives: Jack Nelson at the Everson in 1971

On December 21, 1971, Jack Nelson opened at the Everson Museum of Art. The exhibition featured fifty-seven assemblage and mixed media sculptures by the artist, who taught design at Syracuse University.

Nelson’s work reflects his deep spiritual commitment, a skepticism regarding the ability of organized religion to provide true spiritual guidance, and a sharp sense of humor. When he was ten years old, Nelson’s fundamentalist Christian parents brought him to a tent revival meeting in their hometown of Chicago. There he encountered a man, known as Mr. Moon, who would eventually inspire a career’s worth of artistic work. Describing the experience, Nelson wrote, “He came out on the podium dressed in an alchemist’s suit—cranked up a large cosmic-looking machine—grabbed hold of some electrodes with his left hand, and with sparks flying out of his right hand—hair standing on end—he recited John 3:16.”

Using common objects, found materials, and recyclables, Nelson continuously reinterpreted the Mr. Moon character, who is meant to evoke men and women who preach the teachings of the Bible with an intense religious fervor, as well as allude to otherworldly figures and forms. Describing Nelson’s work to a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard, Director Jim Harithas noted, “The work evolves around or rather originates from a special kind of introspection which has its source in grassroots religious inspiration and imagination.”

Nelson gifted Mr. Moon and Mrs. Moon (the two taller standing sculptures in the center of the photo below) to the Everson after the exhibition closed.

-Steffi Chappell, Assistant Curator

Image captions:

  • Invitation to opening of Jack Nelson, Everson Museum of Art Archive
  • Installation photographs (digital scans from 35mm slides) of Jack Nelson, December 21, 1971 – January 21, 1972, Everson Museum of Art Archive