Front-row seat: Local artist uses chairs as canvases

Front-row seat: Local artist uses chairs as canvases

Local artist has painted over 600 original pieces of art - on chairs.

Every piece of Kris Nelson’s original artwork offers a front-row seat. Her canvas is chairs.

She was in art teacher for 35 years, first at Robbinsdale Junior High and finishing at Wrenshall High School.

Nearly 30 years ago, she had her students paint chairs as a project. She took an old one from a roommate and added simple colors to enhance its features.

“When I made my first chair in 1996, as an art project for my students at Wrenshall High School, I made an example,” Nelson said. “And it wasn’t until, oh, 50 chairs later I thought, you know, I better start recording these and documenting them.”

The first chair Kris Nelson ever painted. Kyle Aune/WDIO

She’s now painted 638 chairs, all numbered, photographed, and documented in picture books.

“I do big chairs, I do little chairs,” she said. “And now I’ve even started doing tiny chairs where I have a miniature chair collection that I plan to glue on (a canvas) and then paint a scene or something around it.”

She just filled up her sixth photo album. Her current project is a series of chairs painted for each Minnesota State Park. She was working on her ninth, one for Gooseberry Falls, in mid February.

“They’re all different. There’s going to be a lot of blue and green and brown, but they’re all different,” Nelson said.

Finished chairs from her state parks series. Kyle Aune/WDIO

A big chair takes about 15 hours to paint. When she was teaching, she could only complete a few chairs a year. Now she paints around 36 per year. And she plans to paint a lot more.

“1,000 chairs before I’m 100” is her goal.

“I think I’ll probably be in my 80s when I am completed,” she said. “And then I’ll just keep on painting.”

She gets the chairs from thrift stores, garage sales, or friends just dropping them off. There are around 150 on the second floor of her garage, stacked on the floor and hanging from the walls and ceiling.

“Somewhere I had a saying that, ‘Chairs are good to have so friends can sit beside you,'” Nelson said. “Yeah, there’s just something about a chair that has really stuck with me.”

She also does commissions and displays and sells Chairs by Kris in galleries like Lizzard’s and Minnesconsin Merch in Duluth and the Encore Performing Arts Center and Shop on the Corner in Cloquet. She’ll also be the featured artist of the month at the Superior Public Library in March.

“That’s my life. I am the chair lady.”

“I think I will die with a paintbrush in my hand.”