EIGHINGER: Nelson looking forward to retirement, prepares for 'bittersweet' moments

Posted: May. 30, 2014 1:14 am Updated: Aug. 24, 2014 12:15 am

A part of Julie Nelson wants to stay.

A bigger part of her knows it is time to go.

Nelson will be ending what has been a 20-year love affair with the Quincy Art Center, where she has served as executive director since arriving in Quincy in 1994. Her last day is Aug. 31, and she is torn between emotions.

Nelson, 64, is eager to make more time to enjoy her own passion, which for those who know her comes as no surprise.

"I want to become an artist again, to paint and to draw," she said.

Nelson is especially fond of watercolors and reflections and nature, and when she begins to tell you about any or all of those, stay out of her way. Her arms begin waving, and her passion oozes from each and every word.

She can hardly wait to apply brush to canvas.

As eager as she is to retire, she also realizes an important part of her life will be missing. The natural ties to the art community that she will be surrendering will make a part of her coming retirement "bittersweet," she says.

When Nelson told about how she knew Quincy would be her final professional stop not long after arriving, I could feel one of those inner smiles developing. I arrived in Quincy not longer after Nelson and soon felt the same way. (And we're both still here, with no plans of ever leaving.)

Nelson could sense right away that something special was happening in Quincy.

"I could feel the people in Quincy wanted this Art Center," she said.

And they showed her that time and time again. Numerous times she has been overwhelmed by the community's generosity.

"Most of our funding comes from donations, grants, memberships and bequests," she said.

In addition, Nelson said many of the Art Center's special programs, activities and outreaches are underwritten by local companies and individuals.

Those who have grown up here and believe this community's generosity and volunteer spirit are the same as you might find in any other town in America are sadly mistaken. That intangible is probably best recognized by only those who move into the community from the outside -- like Nelson. And me.

Nelson grew up in an art-friendly family, Her father, David Driesbach, 91, is a renowned print maker and well known for his craft.

"We had a never-ending supply of art supplies growing up," Nelson said.

She moved around quite a bit with her family while growing up, but most of her childhood years were spent in the DeKalb area. She received bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from Northern Illinois University, where her father taught seven of the university-level classes she took.

Nelson has taught studio art and lecture classes at the college level and held a number of positions in art museums, including teacher, administrative assistant and curator of education before she became executive director and curator at the Art Center.

The most enjoyable part of Nelson's job the past 20 years? It's the people she came in contact with. Many of those same people have also provided her with the most gratifying part of her work.

"Seeing when an adult or child ‘gets it,' when you know they understand what is involved in art," she said. "That is always so enjoyable."

Just like the last 20 years she has spent here in Quincy.


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