Anna Nelson's whimsical fish spirits swim into Taos Clay

By Laura Bulkin
Posted 4/30/19

Walking through the doors of Taos Clay Studio is like entering an Aladdin's cave heaped with treasures. The front gallery opens into a series of winding hallways and spacious studios, …

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Anna Nelson's whimsical fish spirits swim into Taos Clay


By Laura Bulkin

Walking through the doors of Taos Clay Studio is like entering an Aladdin's cave heaped with treasures. The front gallery opens into a series of winding hallways and spacious studios, all lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves full of diverse, beautiful creative work.

This May, Taos Clay Studio will be featuring artist-in-residence Anna Nelson with a monthlong exhibition of her work. Nelson's show, titled "Up-Stream," will have its opening reception Friday (May 3), from 5-8 p.m. The venue is located at 1208 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado. Refreshments will be served.

Colorado Springs-born Nelson received her bachelor of fine arts degree in ceramics at Fort Lewis College in 2008, and her master in education in 2013 from Colorado College. She took the long way home to Taos, via a sojourn at The Potters' Studio in Berkeley, California.

"I was teaching high school ceramics in Colorado," Nelson said. "I loved that, and it was hard to step away, but I needed to shift my focus to my art, to find my voice and style. In Berkeley, I was a studio technician. I made glazes, fired kilns and taught classes. I lived in Oakland. But the whole Bay area is incredibly expensive and stressful. I kept thinking about Taos. Something about Taos always grabbed me, and I'd always imagined myself living here. My mom was an art history professor in Colorado, and we would come through here going to Santa Fe for Spanish Market when I was a kid. In high school I started dreaming of being like Georgia O'Keeffe. I imagined having a garden and being an artist, focusing on my work and not feeling overwhelmed."

Nelson arrived in Taos in November, 2017, and within a day had found a place to live, a place to work and even a soak in the hot springs.

"As soon as I stepped into Taos Clay, it felt like family, and it really is a family. We have barbecues, we support each other's work. It's a perfect place to recover from years of high-intensity yuppiness. The more time goes on, the more I feel this place has a hold on me."

As part of the Taos Clay residency program, artists get a solo exhibition after they've completed a year. "I became an official resident in 2018, so the month of May will be my solo exhibition. From when I started here I knew this was coming, so I've been thinking about it and working on it. This will be my first solo show in 10 years. It's been scary. So many possibilities - it's been a challenge to narrow down and focus on one thing. Preparing for it has really helped me to refine and think more about my style and voice and what I want to convey."

The show will include a selection of Nelson's functional work: vases, coffee mugs (some with matching glazed coffee filters), playful bowls and jars. Tiny, perfectly glazed bottles call to mind Etruscan alchemical vessels.

Nelson describes the centerpiece of the exhibit as a hanging installation of ceramic fish. But "fish" is hardly an adequate appellation for this oddly poignant collection of mythical, inspirited creatures not found in any earthly body of water.

"They range from about 6 to16 inches, and they're going to hang at varied heights from the ceiling," Nelson said. "They're much more stylized than literal or representational. At first glance they might seem cutesy, but you can tell there are a lot of different emotions at play. They're super-expressive. Some look mindlessly happy, others anxious and scared. I want people to really feel for them. They're each individually named, and they have a lot of personality. I did a set of 12 of them last Christmas, and when they sold, it felt like letting go of pets."

The show's name, "Up-Stream," has multiple meanings to the artist.

"I definitely have a very aquatic, water-element feel to my work," she said. "There is sort of a clarity, cleanliness, refined color palette, harmonious colors. The word 'up' itself is also important to me. Upward. When I was making the decision to move out here, I had my I Ching read by a friend and it was all about the upward growth of a tree. A lot of bending and turning and roots in rocky soil, but the only direction I was going was upward. Physically I moved up in altitude, and I feel like I've progressed a lot in my work. Ceramics is a slow process. From start to finish it takes a lot of time. It takes courage to know you're going to get there. 'Up-Stream' symbolizes fighting the current to get someplace new -- not knowing what the new world looks like, but knowing I need to get there. I feel like I am really trying to have a very unique voice and to do something that looks different than what I see around me, and that's an upstream swim, too."

She said she hopes that during this show, "I can get to meet more people from the community, build more connections. There's so much more that Taos has than I've seen so far. I hope everyone comes out for it."

Nelson's exhibit remains on view through May 31. For more information, call (575) 654-2919 or visit


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