The love of art, the friendship of artists

Artisan Nancy Nelson Going, organizer of the Free Range Art Show, discovered the compassionate side of the art community as she dealt with the death of her husband
Ozaukee Press staff

Nancy Nelson Going knew she loved art, and creating beaded and metal jewelry became passions and a business. But it wasn’t until she delved deeper into the art community that she learned what much of it was all about.

Nelson Going, who runs her own online store, also hosts art shows at her Town of Cedarburg farm on Pleasant Valley Road.

It was when her husband Mike died from a rare illness last March that her artist friends showed their true colors.

Support and sympathetic expressions came from everywhere. A meal was delivered to her house from someone she didn’t know well.

When it came time to hold the annual Free Range Art Show a couple of weeks ago, Nelson Going had been exposed to Covid-19. She didn’t have it, but her friends had agreed to host the show without her if she had to stay in her house.

“We’ve built a huge community and friendship among ourselves,” Nelson Going said. 

She has held shows on her farm for more than 10 years with several other artists. Regulars sift in and out as their life situation allows, but Nelson Going was touched by the response to her requests for help.

“Here’s the best part. When I asked them, they said it’s an honor,” she said as she touched her heart.

Nelson Going has developed two standards for people in her shows.

“As important as it is that they’re talented, it’s also important that they’re kind,” she said.

One artist friend helped Nelson Going set up her online store. Another developed a marketing plan for the show. More than one reminds her to stop decorating the barn and chicken coop and work at pricing her items. She loves creating art, but doesn’t like the business side of it.

A Fort Lauderdale native, Nelson Going developed a creative streak early in life. Her mother, grandmother and aunt were seamstresses, so she grew up sewing.

“I loved crafts when I was little but it never occurred to me to go into it as a business,” she said.

Her grandmother was an avid gardener. Nelson Going got the chance to start with a small garden in Connecticut and upgraded to a big one when she and her family moved to the Town of Cedarburg farm more than a decade ago.

“This energy bomb went off,” she said.

She described gardening as being about color, texture, design, how everything works together.

“It’s a very artistic thing to do,” Nelson Going said.

She grows all kinds of flowers and food.

“My kids think the highest compliment is when I tell them I love them more than flowers,” she said with a laugh.

Nelson Going has developed followings of her work in various places. She and Mike moved around the East Coast and Midwest for his career in sales and as an executive in the travel industry.

Nelson Going had earned a degree in recreation and leisure services from Florida State, and found jobs wherever they lived. That experience led her to create the Free Range Art Show.

She spent time in New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida (twice) and Illinois before settling in Wisconsin. 

Her first child was born in Florida and second in Illinois. That’s when she decided she wanted to stay home with her children.

She had already gotten into bead work.

“I took a class, one class, and started making jewelry,” Nelson Going said. “I was just hooked.”

She was also dabbling in other mediums.

“I had been basket weaving, which is a mess. You can’t do that with toddlers,” she said. “That’s where the beading came in. I can do that with the children.”

Her bead jewelry was once noticed by an employee of Banana Republic, who asked where she got it. Nelson Going said she made it herself and was then invited to be part of an event to show off her work.

Nelson Going said she hoped she would bomb or be wildly successful.

“I said a prayer,” she said. “I needed a clear direction. It’s expensive to buy the jewels.”

It was successful, and she kept going.

But Nelson Going doesn’t use just any beads. After decades in the business, she has developed suppliers. One from Washington State gets materials from Afghanistan. Some people look for beads from Africa that had been traded for palm oil centuries ago. She attends gem and bead shows across the country.

“Nobody likes to go with me because I’m there all day,” she said.

She can envision some of her pieces as she’s shopping. Others change during the process. “I’m looking at them and I’m kind of creating them in my mind,” she said.

She could get cheaper beads from China, but “I’m in it to make something beautiful that you’re going to have for a long time,” she said.

Her metal work is more complex. She has a drill press, torch and soldering board in her chicken coop to put patterns  on earrings, bracelets and other pieces. The process involves hammering and putting pieces in liquids to trigger specific chemical reactions. Sometimes, she heads to Terri McCarthy Studios in Grafton to use her equipment.

Some of the pieces come off just as she wanted. Mistakes are either learning experiences or “Ooo, I like that,” she said.

“I’m still learning. I just let things happen. I like the organic look.”

By the time customers walk in the door — many longtimers receive instant hugs, even if they’re donning soaked raincoats — Nelson Going is ready to share her work and what’s behind it.

“I love talking to the people and telling them how I make it because it’s fascinating,” she said.

The last Free Range Art Show was a success despite rain. Nelson Going sold more than 50 sets of earrings, 15 bead bracelets and a host of other items.

She is expanding her operation to hold a full day of workshops on July 9, complete with lunch from a food truck and walking tours of her property.

The next Free Range Art Show is Aug.6 and 7, and Nelson Going will participate in the Covered Bridge Art Studio Tour Oct. 7 to 9.

“I really love doing it. It’s very rewarding to make something and have people love it,” she said.

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