Nelson Morris: For The Sake Of Art

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Nelson Morris: For The Sake Of Art

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special article on lifewithlilred. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Nelson Morris, a teacher, an artist, and now a new friend. Nelson recently had a part of his work entitled the “1000 Faces Project” featured at the Cleveland Ingenuity Festival and it is currently being displayed at the Waterloo Sculpture Garden and let me tell you, those who can make it out are in for a treat. Learning the intricacies of Nelson’s artwork was such a joy and I know I shouldn’t be saying this but I’m going to anyways…I have never been so excited to work with someone. Take a look at the interview conducted by yours truly as well as some photos of Nelson’s creations:

nelsonnelson1nelson2

  • Lil Red: So the first thing everyone is obviously going to want to know about is your latest creative endeavor, the “1000 Faces Project”, so tell me more.
  • Nelson: Of course. It started when I was a student teacher in Middlefield, Ohio. My art students never wanted to do portraits, which I think comes from the social anxiety a student can often feel from the fear of making a mistake. I fought tooth and nail with them about it and one day I set up a still life of a plaster cast and the kids drew it. Something in them clicked, similar to the light bulb moment that I had during a trip to New York City to help a fellow artist. I saw so many people and all I wanted to do was draw all of their faces. This project is about diversity and the subtle facial differences that make us unique. What makes us the same? What makes us different? I wanted to find out, so I began making casts.
  • LR: Approximately how many faces have you cast?
  • N: So far I have 165.
  • LR: And you think you’re going to get to 1000?
  • N: Yes, I really do. At the Ingenuity exhibit I was set up on stage casting audience members. I casted thirty faces there and got a great response so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.
  • LR: Has it been difficult finding people willing to sit for you to get their faces cast?
  • N: Yes! The casting part is easy, it’s finding people that’s the hardest. I can transport an 1800 pound statue on my own and it’s horrible but finding people is much harder.
  • LR: How have you been finding people to plaster?
  • N: First I started by reaching out to my friends on Facebook but then I quickly ran out. I then started adding all of the people on the “people you may know” section – I sent a friend request to anyone who looked sane! That’s how I got in touch with you!
  • LR: I’m glad I look sane to you! But I do the exact same thing when I want more views on my site – a friend on Facebook is a potential viewer.
  • N: I’ve met some great people from it, too. One time I got to cast a group of fifteen people in the basement of the Fastlane bowling alley in Barberton after it closed thanks to finding the owner on Facebook.
  • LR: I didn’t even know bowling alleys had basements! What are some of the most memorable moments from all of the people you’ve casted?
  • N: I’ve had some creepy ones, that’s for sure – but I’ve also had a lot of really fun ones too…Except for the first cast that I ever did, which was on my own face. As an artist, you always experiment on yourself first, so I was home alone at my parent’s house and I stood in front of a mirror and started to cover my face in plaster. I had straws in my nose, walrus-style, so I could breathe and after about three layers of plaster I covered my eyes and did the rest by touch. This was in June and I had hay fever at the time and the straws stuck up my nose kept on bumping and tickling me and before I knew it, I felt a huge sneeze coming on. I tried to pry the cast off but it was stuck on there pretty good and for a split second I thought to myself, “great, this is how I’m going to die – with a plaster face mask on”. But I got the cast off and I survived! However, the plaster that I used originally was very rough and gritty and when I pulled the mask off some chunks of plaster got into my eyes…I spent forty-five minutes in the shower trying to wash it all out.
  • LR: The things people do for their craft. Can you tell me more about the process of creating a plaster face cast?
  • N: Well, the process was a bit messy to start because I’ve only plastered bodies, never a face. I used to use about six layers of gauze impregnated with plaster but now I’ve got it down to only one to two layers. Like I said, making the casts is the easiest part now. All you do is dip the gauze in water, squeegee it off, and slap it on the face. I’ve got the process down from a half hour to ten or fifteen minutes flat.
  • LR: What do you think the finished product is going to be like once you’ve finally cast 1000 faces?
  • N: It changes all the time. I think very architecturally though so the idea right now is to have the faces lined up next to each other, kind of like in the old underground catacombs. When they’re lined up next to each other is when you can truly compare and contrast them. I also want to incorporate audio into the project. I take recordings of the voices of everyone who I’ve plastered and I would like to make it so if you touch one of the faces you can hear the voice of the model.
  • LR: Wait what? How do you plan on doing that?
  • N: I know it sounds crazy but stay with me! I’ve played with this idea before with a life sized terracotta statue. The sound chip was solar powered so when the sun lined up just right the statue of the woman would begin to sing. But that was just for one statue – I had no idea how I would do it with hundreds of face casts. I started to ask around for help and the head engineer of 107.9 (a Cleveland radio station) told me about a processing board that might make the idea possible. I happened to find a hobby group dedicated to working on the processing boards in Akron and I emailed a member with the subject “For The Sake Of Art”. He replied and has been helping me with creating the codes and wiring to give the plaster masks voices.
  • LR: I’m so excited to see the “1000 Faces Project” in all of its concrete and audio glory. So, if you could say one thing to a young Nelson before he had a beard, what would it be?
  • N: Everything’s gonna turn out alright.

Pretty cool, huh? Not only is Nelson an artist extraordinaire, but he also teaches pre-k through 8th grade. How he has time to breathe is beyond me! He told me a great story about how on the first day of one of his classes he presented the students with a basket of one hundred pencils and a pair of bolt cutters. He cut off the eraser to every pencil because his students don’t use erasers in his classes so that they can learn how to fix their problems on their own. This goes along hand in hand with the mantra he tells his students daily: “Making a mistake isn’t a problem when you’re creating art work. You have to learn from your mistakes and adapt from them”.

Nelson is a self funded artist who creates customized pieces and will be selling replicas of the tiles seen in the pictures featured on this post. If you are interested in any of his art work old and new or have ideas for a custom piece, you can contact him at:

If you live in the Akron/Cleveland, Ohio area and are interested in having Nelson cast your face he now offers free house casting parties. If you can get five people to attend, he will come to you. But if you get ten or more people to come to the party, all of the guests will receive a free record of their face which will look something like this:

record

I want to thank Nelson so much for sitting down with me for a chat because it was seriously an  honor. If you have any questions for my new friend you can reach him through any of the mediums I posted above or leave me a comment to relay to him. Would you get your face plastered for the 1000 Faces Project? What do you think Nelson’s finished product is going to end up looking like? We wanna hear from all of you, so leave us a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

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