Castles in the Sky
Having painted frescoes on walls in churches, community buildings and businesses for more than two decades, Blowing Rock artist Roger Nelson is used to working on large-scale pieces of art.
For the past six months, however, he has taken on a new challenge, creating a massive work of art in his own studio that will later be transported to its permanent location.
Nelson describes the new work as “my castles in the sky” painting. At 14-feet high and 11-feet wide, the new piece demanded his structural ingenuity, as well as his artistic ability.
“I used a system of pulleys and cables on the frame behind the painting, so I could turn it and keep the canvas uniformly tight,” Nelson said, pointing to an unusual combination of come-along steel cables and block and tackle woodwork.
The frame on the back of the painting is merely temporary. Last week, Nelson completed the final touches on the painting and signed it.
“When it is dry, I’m going to take it off of the frame and roll it up,” he said. “There’s really no other way to get it out of the studio.”
The gigantic painting was commission by Tom and Sandy Rouse of the Elk River Club in Avery County. It depicts a series of castles around the perimeter, reaching skyward toward the middle of the painting. It will be installed on the ceiling of the Rouse’s master bedroom.
“They wanted a fresco, but that would’ve been impossible on that ceiling,” Nelson said.
Nelson and the Rouses began the project last November and held a series of meetings to hash out design possibilities.
“One possibility was a giant library scene with people on tall ladders getting books from the higher shelves and famous writers and poets lurking in the corners,” Nelson said.
They agreed on a medieval castle scene, and Nelson convinced the couple to let him add horses, carriages, soldiers and other people in the piece.
“This painting has really appealed to the mad mathematic side of me,” Nelson said. “Most paintings have one vanishing point. But this one is so large that it had to have multiple vanishing points, and I used them to create celestial focal points in the sky.”
The castle architecture was also a first for Nelson. He had previously painted many biblical scenes during his fresco work in western North Carolina. And he had also painted a large number of landscapes, many of which were featured in a special exhibit last year celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway. But European castles were a first for him.
“I started sketching them out in charcoal,” he said. “I didn’t refer to or copy any particular castle, but I started paying attention to them, all of their little details and elements.”
Nelson worked on the painting while also traveling to Asheville to teach fresco painting at an art school.
“I would say that I spent 60 or 70 percent of my working time on the painting,” he said.
Nelson said the Rouses are pleased with the new painting and are particularly excited about the sky.
“The sky is such a dominant part of the painting,” Nelson said. “I tried to enhance it with the clouds, moon, birds and other elements.”
Now that it is completed, Nelson is looking for his next project.
“They are remodeling the St. Paul Train Station in Minnesota, which is where I am originally from,” he said. “I have sent them a proposal for a project where I would take local art students and teach them the art of fresco, while creating a new piece of art for the train station. I think the idea of having students learn a craft during the creation of a piece of commissioned art benefits a lot of people at one time and I am hopeful they will accept my proposal."