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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sonoma County Artist: Fran Nielsen

Fran Nielsen has lived her life in Sebastopol. She apologizes for this fact but knows that she is a fortunate person. Her father lived his life in Sebastopol and her grandmother ventured from far away Healdsburg. How more local can someone be?

Fran works in her home – right off the kitchen in a space designed for creating. The work that goes on in this studio is as integral a part of Fran’s being as the life she has built as a wife, mother and grandmother. Fran downplays her accomplishments as an artist and is quick to tell that she has no formal training and just does what comes naturally. She mentions that she only began focusing on paintings in the last three years but “focus” is a critical word here. Painting is a profession that she has progressed towards all her life.

Fran loved animals as a child and began her drawing forays by painting horses. Not the easiest subject for even the most schooled of artists – she recalls that they looked similar to dogs! Once in high school, her talents were tapped to design and build sets for school productions.

Becoming a wife and mother became her most important role as time went on but all of those lifelong friends could not forget Fran’s artist abilities. Fran did graphic design for an apple business, designed the original logo for Lucas Wharf Restaurant in Bodega Bay, drew pen and ink mementos of houses for real estate agent gifts and provided portraits of children for doting parents. She naturally became the Art Director for the California Junior Miss Pageant which was held in Santa Rosa. For ten years, Fran designed and created the musical production stage sets for the pageant.

Along the way Fran found a new outlet by making cloth dolls with carved faces. She and her sister worked home shows with a line of Father Christmas and angel dolls. The dolls provided a medium for carving, painting, sewing and ornamentation - a combination of beautiful and intriguing components which yielded a desirable product. While the public clamored for decorative soft dolls, Fran’s son wanted to adorn his walls with paintings by his mother. The tradition of painting a picture for her son began in the 1990’s and continues today. Fran started adding paintings into the mix of offerings at the home shows – and they sold. She was asked to put her dolls in Jessal Gallery in Napa and she parlayed that invitation to include some paintings – and they sold! In 2006 Fran’s emphasis changed to painting.

The Art Workshop of Western Sonoma County (AWS) is an active group of over 100 local working artists. It began in 1965 and continues to be the second oldest art group in Sonoma County. With that legacy, it is not surprising that Fran is very active in this group. She is currently the Recording Secretary and she participates in most of the activities. AWS meets the third Thursday of the month, Noon to 3 PM, in the dining room of the Sebastopol Veterans Memorial Hall, S. 282 High Street, Sebastopol, CA. After a light lunch and business meeting, a local artist provides a demonstration or critique. Fran is a self admitted goal setter and she uses the inspiration of this forum to try new things. She is fascinated with the contrasts for shadows and sunlight. She loves the drape of fabrics and the color variations imposed by glass. She is always looking for the next challenge.

Fran paints in a style of realism. Her medium is acrylics on canvas. She finds the preciseness of clean lines and architectural perspective naturally appealing. While her subject matter is recognizable as local landmarks and known views, Fran makes her paintings more likeable by altering the composition - remove the extra building, change the plants in the foreground, the addition of an animal. The showing currently at the Prudential Real Estate office in Sebastopol is made up of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, Russian River appellation vineyards, Carmel courtyard and kitchen vignettes. Some are stylized – some are like photographs – all are beautiful.

Fran’s works can be seen regularly in many local venues. All of her entries to the Harvest Fair have brought ribbons. The Apple Blossom crowd has voted her painting the people’s choice two years in a row. Maybe it was the apples on the table that brought the support but more likely it was the serenity that the painting evoked. You can see Fran’s paintings for the next three months at Prudential California Realty at 7300 Healdsburg Avenue in Sebastopol and most of the time at Graton Ridge Cellars on Hwy 116 between Sebastopol and Forestville. In September, paintings will be in Bank of the West in downtown Sebastopol. Two warnings – come prepared to buy and don’t expect to come back later and find the same painting. These paintings sell!

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