June 12--On a Spring day about 10 years ago, Tom Nielsen boarded a boat to get a first hand look at the marshes around Glynn County.
The Iowa native had spent decades as an artist, painting portraits of politicians and former presidents, and as a graphic designer, but he had a new mission to accomplish that was unlike almost anything he had been commissioned to do before: painting Georgian landscapes to give to the leaders attending the G8 Summit on Sea Island in June 2004.
"We didn't have much advanced notice," said Nielsen, who ended up using several scenes of coastal seascapes as his subjects for the framed gifts that were given to all eight world leaders during the conference.
Recipients included President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair from the United Kingdom and Russian President Vladmir Putin.
"Those series of paintings put me on a new track as an artist. Before that, I had painted few seascapes but not that frequently. But this opened my mind to where my heart really was," said Nielsen, who has since been selected as a signature member of the prestigious American Society of Marine Artists and has shown his sea and ocean paintings at galleries across the nation.
What started as a job has quickly turned into a passion, he said.
"Georgia is an absolutely beautiful state. I've always been intrigued by the Lowcountry and the marshes of Glynn especially. It's hard for an artist to put their feelings into words so I use my canvas and brushes to express how I feel," said Nielsen, who lives in Carrollton with wife Jan.
The couple shares a studio, where he completes the seascapes and portraiture. His wife paints during down time from her job as an interior designer.
"I thought (G8 Summit) was a wonderful opportunity to thank our leaders, especially President Bush, and to give a special gift from Georgia," Jan Nielsen said. "It was exciting to be part of it."
She wasn't worried that her husband wouldn't get the paintings done on time because his talent is also a spiritual gift, she said.
"Tom is a realist," Jan Nielsen said. "He copies the very thing that God made. I look at the ocean paintings and immediately I want to be there at the beach. It's almost spiritual, the way he uses light in his scenes."
Locals will get a chance to see him in action. Tom Nielson will give a painting demonstration from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at Left Bank Art Gallery as part of the opening weekend of his latest exhibition at the gallery, "Tom Nielsen: New Coastal Landscapes," that serves as a special 10th anniversary exhibit of the G8 summit series.
"With every artist, you grow with time," Tom Nielsen said. "I'm painting scenes now that are more dramatic in color and composition, with movement in the scene."
The exhibit will kick off this afternoon with a meet-and-greet reception from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the gallery space at 3600 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island.
Nielsen says the gallery holds a special place in his heart, dating back to the G8 Summit, when the gallery held an art celebration and autograph party that was attended by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Mildred Wilcox, owner of Left Bank Art Gallery, was instrumental in helping Nielsen select marsh scenes for the summit series.
"Mildred offered scene possibilities, which was great because I was not familiar with the coast at the time," he said.
Since 2004, Nielsen regularly makes trips to Coastal Georgia to paint the seascapes and marsh scapes now and likes to visit the St. Simons gallery, which was the first Georgia gallery to show his landscapes.
"I'm so grateful to Mildred and Left Bank through all these years. I have shows from California to Illinois, but Left Bank holds a special place in my heart," he said.
Dayna Caldwell, director of Left Bank Art Gallery, said the latest exhibition is an exception to what the gallery usually hosts.
"This is one of the biggest exhibitions we have put on lately. We usually don't do a large one-man show, but Tom is one of the best marine artists in the country. The fact that he captures such movement of the waves and clouds in these beach scenes, it's incredible. They are so lifelike that I can't believe it isn't a photograph on canvas," Caldwell said. "And to have an artist that is so versatile, who has made a career with his portraits as well -- it speaks volumes of his talent and capabilities."
Nielsen is looking forward to the meet and greet this afternoon and the painting demonstration Friday.
"With demonstrations, I like to keep it fun and informal. I give all the credit to God for the ability to paint and pass along some of what I find inspiring so it can be an inspiration to others," he said.
Jan Nielsen, who will be alongside her husband today at the reception, said she is looking forward to enjoying the opening and meeting art enthusiasts in the Golden Isles.
"I hope, whether someone just likes to look at paintings or is a private collector, that we get to meet them and enjoy the show with them," she said.
-- Lifestyle Editor Bethany Leggett writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at email@example.com, or at 265-8320, ext. 316.
Check it out
Left Bank Art Gallery, 3600 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island, will celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the G8 Summit on Sea Island with the exhibition, "Tom Nielsen: New Coastal Landscapes" on display until July 10.
An opening reception will be from 4:30 to 7 p.m. today at the gallery. The reception is free and will include light refreshments.
An artist demonstration by Nielsen will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at the gallery. There is no admission fee but reservations are requested due to limited seating.
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