Nelson, Ralph

Nelson, Ralph Lewis (1885-1967)

Ralph Lewis Nelson was born on February 2, 1885, in Coal City, Illinois. After his mother died when he was two and a half years old, he was raised by his aunts and uncles. He attended Baptist College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and it was there that he received his first formal art training. He also studied commercial art. He studied art at the Cleveland School of Art, Des Moines School of Art, Cochran School in Washington, D.C., and the Art Students League in New York. Nelson worked for newspapers around the country including the Cleveland Press, Washington Star, Washington Times, New York Herald, and New York World. During World War I he enlisted in the Marines where he created publicity and recruiting artwork. He conceived of the concept and design for the Uncle Sam I Want You poster that Montgomery Flagg went on to paint. After the War Nelson moved to New York City and married Bernice Merrill. Throughout the 1920s he worked free-lance, focusing on illustrations and book jacket designs. In 1928 he moved from New York to Wilton, Connecticut. Prior to the WPA Federal Arts Project, he worked for the Public Works of Art Project. He began working for the WPA in 1935, completing 118 easel works that were allocated to many public institutions across the state. He also completed many murals, some of which have been lost. During World War II Nelson painted triptychs for portable altars that were sent overseas. He spent the last 27 years of his life in Bethlehem, Connecticut. For the last ten years of his life he was legally blind but continued to paint. He was an active exhibitor at the Kent and Washington Art Associations and helped found the annual art show at the Bethlehem Fair. He also assisted in the formation of Artists and Writers of Connecticut. Nelson died on May 7, 1967, and is buried in Bethlehem Cemetery, Bethlehem, Connecticut.

 Sources: WPA Artist’s Work Card; WPA Biography; Thomas R. Egan, The Sunday Republican Magazine, October 11, 1964; Carolyn Gonzales; “Some Biographical Information on Ralph Nelson,” October 1999; AskART; Social Security Death Index; “Ralph Lewis Nelson, February 2, 1885-May 7, 1967”;Who Was Who In American Art (1986), p. 445; “Schools Will Get Mural Panels Soon,” Hartford Courant, December 18, 1936.

Works of Art Listed in CT Archives’ database from Ralph Nelson:

Indian Invitation: oil
Hillside Farm: oil
Arrival of 10 Settlers in Wethersfield: oil
Hockey: watercolor
Meeting of the Railroads: watercolor
Building a Skyscraper: watercolor
Children Wading: watercolor
Farm House: oil
The Picnic Mart: oil
3 Sketches: oil
Grumman Hill: watercolor
Spring: oil
Pied Piper of Hamlin: oil
Cinderella: oil
Rip Van Winkle Country: oil
When Winter Comes: oil
Oak Trees in Winter: oil
Winter Sunlight and Blue Shadows: oil
Turbulent Waters: watercolor
Fishing Shacks: watercolor
Gray Day on the Marshes: oil
Water Lilies: waterc-lor
Spring Shower: watercolor
Old Mill- Lovers Lane: black pastel
Connecticut Trees & Rocks: black pastel
Waterfall in the Woods: black pastel
Log Jam: black pastel
Silent Places: black pastel
Winter Sketch: black pastel
In the Catskills: oil
Fox Haven: black pastel
Abandoned: black pastel
No Sign of Spring: oil
Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: oil
Public Mart in Wallingford:  
Bend in the River: oil
Witch’s House: watercolor
Snow Scene: watercolor
Man in Pillory: oil
Wethersfield Public Mart: oil
Backyard in Wilton: oil
Snow Scene: oil
The Pool: watercolor
The One that Got Away: watercolor
Old Mill Bridge- Norwalk: watercolor
Head of Old Lady: watercolor
Snow Scene- Grauman Hill, Wilton: watercolor
Lull Before the Storm: watercolor
The Sunny Corner: watercolor
Old Trout Stream: watercolor
Long Island Sound: watercolor
The Deserted Mill: watercolor
Grandmother’s Dress: watercolor
Still Life: watercolor
Sundown: watercolor
Winter Morning: watercolor
Man in Stocks: oil
Some Place in Connecticut: watercolor
Study: watercolor
Fishing Boy: watercolor
Early Fall: oil
Fishing Girl: watercolor
Fishing Shacks: watercolor
Colored Girl: watercolor
Girl’s Head: watercolor
Memories: watercolor
Winter Scene: oil
Peaceful Valley: oil
Fall Scene: oil
The Old Ice House: oil
Melting Snow: oil
Old Man and Oxen: oil
Connecticut Farm in Winter: oil
Sundown: oil
Old Mill: oil
Up for the Winter: oil
November Snow: oil
Sailing Ships in Battle (Olmstead’s Battle): oil
Buying Land from the Podunk Indians: oil
French Soldiers (Being Paid Off): oil
Conn. Valley Tobacco Farm: oil
Man Plowing: oil
United Air Craft Scene: oil
House that Jack Built: oil
Snow Scene: oil
Conn. Hills in Winter: oil
Riding High or Flying High: oil
Rolling Along: oil
Surprise Snow: oil
Sundown: oil
October Color: oil
Through the Trees: oil
Valley Farm or “Farm House”: oil
Winter Brook: oil
October Moods: oil
Old Covered Bridge: oil
Clear and Cold: oil
Day Dreams: watercolor
Waterfall: oil
Little Girl – Ducks & Chickens: watercolor
Glory Lilies: watercolor
Bend in the Road: watercolor
Seascape: oil
Winter Evening: oil
Indian Chief: oil
Gnomeville Art Colony: watercolor
Through the Cottonwood Trees: watercolor
Blue Shadows- Morning: watercolor
Indian War Clouds: oil
Silver Birches: watercolor
Fisherman’s Cup Race: watercolor
Another Snow: oil
Melting Snow: watercolor
Winter Stream: watercolor
Dickery, Dickery, Dare: watercolor
Oh Where, Oh Where is my Little Wee Dog: watercolor
One of Those Silent Places: oil
October Day: oil
Making the Best of It: oil
Little Jack Jingle: watercolor
Hickory, Dickery, Dock: watercolor
Snow: oil
Valley Farm: oil
Old Mill Road: oil
Snow Scene: oil
Arrival of First Settlers: oil
Somewhere in Wilton: oil
Early Fall: watercolor
Winters Blanket: oil
There Was a Monkey: watercolor
January Morning: oil
October 21st: oil
After Sundown: oil
January Afternoon: oil
Look- Side House Winter: oil
Snow on the Mountain: oil
Spring Comes to Guild’s Hollow: oil
The Old Grist Mill: oil
Sunset in the Berkshires: oil
Short Days: oil
November Morning: oil
Tides In: oil
Solomon’s Island- Maryland: oil
December Sunset: oil
Lookout Hill: oil
Old Toll Bridge: oil
Snow Village: oil
Mountain Stillness: oil
Pageant of Color: oil
Old Sawmill: oil
Moods of November: oil
From My Attic Window: oil
White Thanksgiving: oil
When Winter Comes: oil
This is Connecticut: oil
Winter Patterns: oil
Weathering Another Winter: oil
Melting Snow: oil
Maple Sugar Time: oil
Back Road: oil
Winter Evening: oil
Signs of Spring: oil
Spring: oil
Early Weaving Industry: oil
The Birth of Industry: oil
Autumn:  
Nelson, Ralph