Studio Visit: Dawna Nelson
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Dawna Nelson, an artist who started making wreaths two years ago and who is best known as a singer.
Q: I didn't know you made holiday wreaths. When did you start making those?
A: I started making those two years ago. I'm on the board of GCAP — the Greater Community AIDS Project — and Linda Warner and I were co-chairing the holiday gala. It was hard to come up with new ideas, and we wanted to run with a theme.
So we said, "Why don't we reach out to creative types to make wreaths, and we'll auction those off?"
We got a great response. The Nervous Nellie in me thought we wouldn't have enough, and I kind of went crazy and made more than 20 that year.
I had people asking me, "Are you going to do wreaths again?" The first year was great — all the profits went to GCAP.
This year I kind of got into it. I was an art major in college. I've been working at Amdocs for the past nine years. I'm able to be a little creative in that job, but not visually, so I always come back to some kind of artistic thing.
Q: So now you make these wreaths on commission?
A: I have been this year; they kind of took off. I had a lot of stuff left over from last year. So I started going to buy other things to make these wreaths happen. I started making them and posting them on Facebook, and a lot of orders came in.
I gave two wreaths this year to the GCAP holiday gala, and this past Friday at work we did a holiday shop, so I gave wreaths to it. Ten percent of what I sold there went to the Developmental Services Center.
Q: How many wreaths have you turned out so far this year, and do you sell them anywhere in town?
A: I'm right around 40, and I have a few more commissions to finish. I just dropped off a bunch at the Furniture Lounge (in downtown Champaign) because they wanted to sell them there. I think I dropped off seven wreaths with her today (Tuesday). And Facebook has worked out really well.
Q: I didn't know you studied art. Where?
A: Parkland College. I also took classes at the University of Illinois when I was in high school.
I had an amazing art teacher at Monticello High: Mr. Frank Mula. He died a few years ago. Having him as an art teacher for four years — he was amazing. I was really lucky that our paths crossed. Even as an adult, when I do things like these wreaths, I can't help but think of him.
Q: You are mainly known as a singer. When did you start singing?
A: Wow, I started singing professionally when I was 7. My dad, Sonny Nelson, is a musician. He had three daughters he raised to be boy musicians. He always was into music.
My oldest sister, Debbie Greer, is an amazing piano player and brilliant singer. It's a good thing she doesn't sing a lot in public because no one would hire me anymore.
My sister Dina Johnson has been in Nashville for 20 years. She's a drummer and plays with Jim Ed Brown. She is the first female staff drummer at the Grand Ole Opry. She's also amazing.
Q: Did you ever live in Nashville?
A: I did. I lived down there in the mid-1990s, for a about a year and half.
Q: What did you do?
A: Wait tables like everybody else. I did a handful of gigs. I did a few studio gigs with John Pennell. He plays upright bass and guitar. He's the one who started Union Station with Alison Krauss.
Q: What bands are you singing with now?
A: I play with the Impalas. I'm just doing that.
Q: What other kinds of art do you make?
A: You know, that's really about it right now. I'll dabble once in a while with paints. I'm so busy with work and gigs and family and friends it's hard to find the time to do it. It's fun. I always have a good time. It's amazingly cathartic.