Creative Pagosa: Chris Nelson

Photo courtesy Chris Nelson Pagosa artist Chris Nelson uses a variety of special and frequently very small tools to create sculptural art jewelry in iron and gold, often set with unique gemstones.

Photo courtesy Chris Nelson
Pagosa artist Chris Nelson uses a variety of special and frequently very small tools to create sculptural art jewelry in iron and gold, often set with unique gemstones.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is building a web-based directory of all the creative people and businesses in the community. By creating this website, it will make these MAKERS easier to find in online search engines and will help share the wealth of innovative and talented individuals that call our small town home.

This sort of database is called “cultural mapping” and is being done by communities around the country in order to realize and recognize the value of their creative assets.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is establishing the groundwork for continued collaboration, cooperation and promotional efforts of the combined community. The goal of the project is to establish a solid foundation of cultural and creative individuals and businesses, to create a viable plan for promoting these assets and to promote the Pagosa area as a worthy place of residence for creative people, a productive place for creative business ventures and a desirable destination for arts tourism.

At present, the PACP is also planning an event for fall 2013. The event, the MAKERS Expo and Tour, is set for Oct. 12-13.

To register and be listed in the database, go to

In order to highlight the MAKERS in Pagosa, the PACP will profile its members, giving readers of The PREVIEW a sense of the depth and breadth of the creative community.

This week’s MAKER is Chris Nelson.

Q: Tell us a little about who you are, where you were born, educated, your family, growing up and how you came to be doing your creative work?

CN: I am a metal artist and have lived in Pagosa Springs since late 2004. Jewelry making is my final career, after working in earlier lives as carpenter, contractor, estimator, project manager on multi-million dollar insurance-related catastrophes. I ended my professional career in 2001 after living in St. Thomas, USVI, almost six years. I made jewelry in the late 1960s while working as a dental technician and working on my B.S. in biology at San Diego State University. I resumed making jewelry in 2001 while living in the Caribbean and returned to the U.S. to study jewelry making at Revere Academy in San Francisco, studying at various Master Symposiums from 2002-2008 with the best of the best working jewelry artists in the U.S.

I studied with Naohiro Yamada, from Japan, and began working with the tiny Japanese chisels, overlaying iron with 24 karat gold. The designs developed and, since I was already fairly masterful at fusing gold to gold and gold to silver, I began fusing seven distinct gold alloys to iron. I began showing my art jewelry at Fine Art Festivals around the U.S. in 2008.

In 2010, the line of iron/gold jewelry set with unique, quality gemstones emerged and was branded “Urban Armour.” Since then, my work has sold well in NYC, Chicago, Beverly Hills and the San Francisco Bay area. My work has been in several international exhibitions both online and in brick and mortar galleries. In May, 2013, two pieces will be in the Society of North American Goldsmiths “FERROUS exhibition” in Toronto, Canada.

With increased demand for a technique of fusing seven distinct hi-karat gold alloys that I spent three years developing on a full-time basis, I decided to start teaching the workings of iron in jewelry scale and fusing gold to it. I will be teaching seven workshops in Colorado this summer, and will be teaching in Kansas City, Asheville and Portland, Maine, in the fall. And requests and bookings are under negotiation for 2014. I might add, I love to work in the metals as well as teach the techniques and processes that I have learned and developed.

Q: Describe the objects you make or the creative work you do.

CN: I make highly wearable, sculptural art jewelry in iron and gold, often set with unique gemstones.

Q: What is your favorite tool or material used in making your work? Why?

CN: I love to work in iron and gold. The iron loves to be worked, and the gold loves to fuse and bond to the iron. I love using fire and the torch is my paint brush as I can develop very organic patterns of the metals with it. My favorite tools are the tiny Japanese chisels, known as “tagane” and my micro Japanese hammers. The tagane are known as the “Iron Brush.” I love the sound of the tap-tap-tap of the hammer and chisel, where I may texture the iron at a rate of two strikes per second, and may go into an hour or more of uninterrupted meditative tapping.

Q: Do you have a regular routine or schedule?

CN: I wear many hats, not only doing my own photography of my work, but marketing it and selling it. Much time is spent on non-studio activities to support the work. I average 30 hours per week working in my studio. I participate in juried fine art festivals around the U.S. —  in NYC, Bellevue, Washington, Breckenridge, Denver, Evanston, Ill. , Beverly Hills, Houston, the Palm Springs area. And now I am scheduling many more workshops around the U.S.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

CN: Follow your vision. Ignore the naysayers.

Q: When you’re not making art, what is your favorite thing to do in Pagosa Country?

CN: I enjoy the hot springs, hiking in the back country and eating out occasionally with friends.

Q: What are your goals for the coming year?

CN: My goal this coming year is to further develop my art and techniques. I will be studying Japanese metals techniques for one full month in New Hampshire in the fall with internationally-recognized metal artist Ford Hallam, from South Africa, who is accepted into and recognized by Japanese metalsmith culture since 1984.

The other goal is to offer workshops with my unique techniques in the U.S., Australia, UK, Florence, and Spain.

Q: What is your dream project?

CN: I haven’t identified my dream project yet. It is always the next piece I am working on. Actually, having my work in the Smithsonian Museum, within three years.

To learn more about Chris Nelson, visit his website at

This story was posted on May 9, 2013.