rt history chair and professor dies at 76

by Sam Kean

Most professors find keeping up with the demands of their job hard enough.
But Marion Nelson, a former chair of the art history department and professor emeritus who died of pancreatic cancer at his home on Sept. 6, loved his area of study enough to hold another full-time job in the arts outside of academics. Nelson was 76.
Nelson was the director of Vesterheim, a museum of Norwegian-American art in Decorah, Iowa, for 27 years.
His speciality was the Scandinavian immigrant art heritage of the United States, especially Norwegian folk art and handmade crafts. He was, in fact, recognized as the national authority in this area.
Art history chair and professor Frederick Asher estimates Nelson trained every specialist on Scandinavian art in the country.
Visiting Macalester assistant professor Chip Sheffield praised Nelson’s extraordinary eye for recognizing quality artwork and described his knowledge of Scandinavia as encyclopedic. Says Sheffield, “He recognized the importance of craft arts fifty years before it was a popular area of study.”
But Nelson the colleague will be missed as much as Nelson the expert. Asher said Nelson was incredibly supportive of any study of art and greatly enhanced faculty lectures with probing questions. In this way, he promoted a spirit of togetherness in the department.
Nelson demonstrated his love of all art by attending numerous small-town festivals every year, both as a speaker and an enthusiastic visitor.
Perhaps his highest recognition came in 1978 when King Olav of Norway presented him with a Knight’s Cross 1st Class, an incredible honor for a non-Norwegian.
Nelson was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and spent his entire academic career at the University.

Sam Kean welcomes comments at [email protected]. He can also be reached at 627-4070 x3212.