Nelson a catalyst in developing Lima’s art scene

LIMA — The essence of created art is taking an internal vision and turning it into an external reality. By that definition, the work former ArtSpace/Lima executive director Ellen Nelson put into putting the art gallery on the map in the Lima community was truly a work of art.

Nelson, 79, died Feb. 1 in Madison, Wisconsin, where she moved in 2019 to be closer to family, according to her obituary. While her roots go back to the Badger State, Nelson left an impact on Lima through her involvement with the arts, specifically the Lima Art Association which became ArtSpace, first as a volunteer in 1984 and then as executive director in 1988, a position she held until 1998.

“ArtSpace has been around for 60 years, so she got in midway through the history of the organization,” longtime ArtSpace board member Fred Odum said. “But it was more like an arts club before she was involved, and she really turned it into an institution.”

That transformation involved moving the organization from its old home at the Allen County Memorial Hall to its present location on Town Square. For present executive director Sally Windle, Nelson was the leader ArtSpace needed in this effort as she possessed both the vision of what ArtSpace could be as well as the tenacity to make that vision a reality.

“Looking at some of the old scrapbooks and pictures from the newspapers, there’s everyone from the business sector coming to see what ArtSpace was doing,” she said. “She had people from Westinghouse and from other businesses in there, and they were making decisions about what ArtSpace was going to do for the next show. So she had that way of making it not only the art community but also some of the leaders in other areas be a part of this.”

Nelson also worked to make the art gallery sustainable through its endowment. Events like Rally in the Square helped promote the downtown gallery and raise funds to keep it in operation. She also worked to promote the future of Lima’s art community through promoting connections with area schools.

“[Former operations coordinator and education director] Nancy [Lohr] and Ellen pretty much just opened the doors of this place,” former Lima schools art education director Mike Huffman said. “We collaborated on a lot of professional development, and that was really advantageous to have a community-based arts organization as a partner.”

Today, ArtSpace/Lima has become a cultural pillar for Lima’s downtown, not only bringing in a variety of exhibits for viewing but also helping people create their own art through various projects and educational efforts. In honor of Nelson’s work in bringing ArtSpace to where it is now, the main floor gallery now bears her name. While that gallery may help preserve the memory of Nelson as a strong advocate for the arts in the Lima community, Lohr, Nelson’s longtime co-worker and friend, said she hopes others will remember something else about the former executive director:

“Her graciousness,” she said. “She allowed us to grow, as well, and I will forever be thankful for that.”