Joann Nelsen (née Hanson) was born in San Francisco, California in 1937. A fine artist and textiles designer, Nelsen received a B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA in 1961 and an M.F.A. in Studio Art from Mills College in Oakland, CA in 1966.
Upon graduating from Mills College, Nelsen began exhibiting her artwork on both the West and East coasts. Her work was included in juried shows in Seattle and San Francisco including the 85th San Francisco Art Museum Annual in 1966, the Richmond Art Center Annual in 1969, and 3 Woman Show: Oakland Art Museum in 1970. Her work was also shown at the Noah Goldowsky Gallery in New York City in 1975.
While at the University of Washington, Joann met fellow art student Paul Nelsen, a ceramicist, whom she later married. In 1970 they moved to Staten Island and continued pursue their respective artistic careers. While active in the contemporary art world, both were interested in historic preservation and eventually became founding members of the Preservation League of Staten Island, established in 1977. Joann and Paul Nelsen eventually purchased one of the oldest houses in the borough, the Scott-Edwards House, built in 1730 and a NYC designated landmark which Joann later bequeathed to the Preservation League. Joann and Paul Nelsen eventually divorced and Paul predeceased Joann by 10 years.
Around the year 1975, Nelsen began focusing her artistic energies on textile design, creating hand painted designs for wallcoverings and upholstery. She became an active freelance designer whose work was produced by Waverly, First Editions and Schumacher. She established a design studio, Half Drop Designs, Ltd., representing herself and other designers of hand painted textiles for the home.
Nelsen originated designs for the home furnishing market, including domestics, drapery, upholstery and wallcovering from the 1970s through the 1990s. Besides Waverly, First Editions, and Schumacher, other companies which produced her designs included Westpoint Stevens, Crown Crafts, Academy Hand prints, Fieldcrest Cannon, Springs Industries, Bloomcraft, and Lands’ End.
At Waverly, the following lines were designed by Nelsen: Country Charm at the Red Lion Inn, Country Crafts, Four Corners Collections, Back Country, Flower Patch Collection, and Cottage Classics. Nelsen also designed The Perennials Collection for First Editions Wallcoverings, and hand painted cotton silk and linen fabrics for the same company.
Nelsen never abandoned her fine art career. In 1980, a silk screened pattern piece she designed was included in Artifacts At The End of a Decade, a book published by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 1981 which showcased the work of forty-four artists and designers.
In 2000, Nelsen officially changed the spelling of her name from Joan Patricia Nelsen to Joann Patricia Nelsen. Joann Nelsen died of cancer on May 18, 2013.
The following sources were consulted in the preparation of this biographical note:
Matranga, Nicholas. “September 2011.” The Preservation League of Staten Island, 23 Sept. 2011, preservestatenisland.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html.
Matranga, Nicholas. “Remembering Joann.” Welcome to The Preservation League of Staten Island, 1 Oct. 2013, preservestatenisland.blogspot.com/2013/10/remembering-joann.html.
Advance, Staten Island. “Joann Nelsen, 76.” SILive.com, 15 June 2013, www.silive.com/obituaries/index.ssf/2013/06/joann_nelsen_76.html.