By Emily Williams
Nelson Grice is a sculptor and ceramics artist, a Hoover High School teacher and an everyday advocate for using your imagination.
He loyally attends the Magic City Art Connection each year and plans to return to the April 22-24 festival to show his unique animal sculptures.
“I think what keeps me coming back … is I love the crowd and it’s my kind of people. It’s Birmingham,” he said.
Grice’s love of art was born and bred in Alabama, beginning in high school, carrying him through college to obtain a bachelor’s in sculpture and ceramics from the University of Montevallo, and taking him back to Hoover, where he has been a sculpture and ceramics teacher since 1996.
“I had a teacher in high school, Soon-Bok Lee Sellers, and she just kind of saved my life in a way,” he said. After graduating and pursuing a teaching career, he decided that he wanted to be that same person for his students.
Students in one of Grice’s classrooms described it as their home at school – a place where they feel absolutely comfortable and able to relax. Everyone was working on something, whether applying color to their work or molding their masterpieces. Even Grice was in on the action, applying intricate pieces of clay to a small, rocket-like structure as he spoke.
Working with mud and his hands is something that Grice loves about teaching ceramic arts, describing it as the most primitive form of art besides drawing on the walls of a cave.
“There is such a push for technology and computers, things that are so esoteric,” Grice said. “This is really one of the most primitive things you can do.”
Even before the ancient Mesopotamians created the potter’s wheel in about 4,000 B.C., primitive humans were molding vessels to hold things such as food and water as far back as 10,000 B.C. and making small figurines tens of thousands of years before that.
As for Grice’s work, rather than vessels for water and food, he creates whimsical animal sculptures using bronze or clay. Each animal has a strong personality, for example, an innovative monkey who has created wooden wings in an attempt to take flight or a primate saddled up on a mechanical hyena.
“The only limit that your imagination has are the boundaries and limits that you put on it,” he said. “So, when you allow your imagination to pour out, when you open the door and allow yourself to think freely, you can do anything.”
Grice said that when he looks back on his collection of pieces, he sees the story of his life, from where he was in high school and college to where he is now, teaching his students to keep their imaginations uninhibited.
Upon entering his classrooms, students are greeted by a quote from Albert Einstein that reads, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Grice said he wants his students to know that, without imagination and the ability to freely hypothesize, there would be little progress, whether in the art world or the world of science.
Grice’s imagination won him the Best in Show Award at the 2014 Magic City Art Connection.
This year, just as any other, his work will be on display for sale along with the work of 199 other local and national artists covering a plethora of mediums from dance to food to paintings.
The festival will take over Linn Park April 22-23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and free for kids ages 12 and under. Guests are invited to bring their leashed pets.
A complementary event, the 19th Corks and Chefs Food and Wine Tasting, will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The tasting will feature food from local restaurants, including 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar, Chez Lulu, Vino, El Barrio and Slice, with accompanying wine, beer and spirits. Tickets are $45 at the door or $35 in advance and include general admission to the festival.
For more information and a full line-up of artists and chefs, visit www.magiccityart.com. For more information on Nelson Grice, visit www.nelsongriceart.com.