Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frank Nelson, Artist and Automaton Maker (1930 - 2012)

Frank Nelson

It is with great sadness that we note the passing this month of Frank Nelson, one of the great makers of contemporary automata. I won't pretend that I knew him. Of course, I knew of his work and have always recognized it as some of the finest. Those who knew him have described him as a genius, who was inspirational, funny, and kind.

Like a few other luminaries in the field of automata-making, he was inspired by artist Sam Smith, who encouraged Nelson to try his hand and moving works and to enter them into exhibitions. Nelson, in turn, has inspired another generation of automata makers with his wit, fine carvings, and exquisite use of paint.

Frank Nelson's web site features a nice biography of his life as an artist. The passage below is taken from there.

Frank Nelson was born in Blackpool in 1930 and attended Blackpool Art School during the 1940s. He then spent some years in motor and aircraft design, becoming self-employed in 1960 and undertaking a range of model-making projects and design works for architects, museums film and theatre.

Frank Nelson started to carve and create automata in the early 1970's and for over 35 years he concentrated exclusively on automata with his own distinct figurative style using carved and painted wood. Over the years he has exhibited in most major galleries and art centres and acted as guest lecturer in a number of Universities, including the John Makepeace School for craftsmen in wood at Parnham House in Dorset. Many of his original automata are in public collections but of the many private commissions - he is proudest of the 'Barnum' automata commissioned by the actor Michael Crawford and based on the stage musical.

Nelson once described his piece 'The Tamer' (1975) as "the best idea I have ever had." The Tamer cracks his whip twice, but the big cat shakes its head from side to side, refusing to perform. On the third crack of the whip, the animal finally does the trick. The surprise comes in the form of a role reversal with the tiger putting his head into the Tamer's mouth.

Picture of a Frank Nelson automaton

Many of us who love automata own Frank Nelson a debt directly or indirectly. A man known for being generous with his time and knowledge, it is good to know that Frank Nelson's works will endure and his influence will live on.

Frank Nelson

Here is the official web site of Frank Nelson where you can see the paintings, drawings, portrait sculpture, and automata produced by this remarkable artist.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

His passing is a huge loss of talent for the automata-making community. R.I.P.


October 21, 2012 at 1:48 AM  
Blogger DaveGoodchild said...

A great shame - he will be sadly missed. Thanks for putting this on the blog.

October 21, 2012 at 4:15 AM  
Blogger Tony Mac said...

Shared many Judo training sessions in the 1960's with Frank, What a good guy. I have only just heard of his passing. Often thought of him and will miss him greatly.
Tony Macconnell 9th Dan Keidokwai Judo Club Blackpool

January 10, 2017 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Tony Mac said...

I shared many Judo training sessions with Frank in the 1960's; What a good guy. Memories of him flood back. I have only just heard of his passing and will continue to miss him greatly.
Tony Macconnell 9th Dan - The Keidokwai Judo Club, Blackpool

January 10, 2017 at 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I have a Lion Tamer by Frank which needs some repair. Can anyone help me?

October 14, 2020 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Lyn said...

To Mike. Where are you based, as I am a sculptor & could look at it if you are nearby? Also, maybe contact the BBC 'The Repair Shop' which is based at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex.

October 27, 2020 at 7:53 AM  

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