Born in Dauphin, Manitoba, Nelson came west with parents Beulah and Sam to Portland during the Great Depression after a boyhood in Chicago. Throughout his life he treasured both his early urban experiences and the bounteous, healthful nature he found on the west coast.
He began college at Linfield where he played baseball, sang in an a capella quartet, and met father Bernard Geiser who became for him a great influence toward the arts. Transferring to University of Oregon, Nelson lettered again in baseball and graduated while enrolled in the ROTC. Nelson married Olive Palm of Portland in November 1941. During World War II he did basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, then served as a lieutenant at various posts stateside and in the Philippines.
After the war Nelson returned to University of Oregon on the GI Bill for graduate work in painting with professors Jack Wilkinson, Andrew Vincent, and David McCosh. Their influence extended throughout his career as artist and instructor. Nelson particularly valued his lifelong friendships with the creative group of architects that began there. Nelson also did post-graduate work on the GI Bil, in Morelia, Michoacan with the notable Mexican painter Alfredo Zalce.
Subsequently he accepted a position with Oregon State College in the art department then chaired by Gordon Gilkey. On leave from OSU, he returned to Mexico for a year to play semi-pro baseball and for more post graduate work. These experiences solidified a lifelong engagement with Mexican culture and Spanish, which he read and spoke with great fluency.
© 2010 the Nelson Sandgren Collection