The mural brought Sheree Nelson back to his art

For Sheree Nelson, Montana ArtsFest wasn’t just a chance to show off her work creating murals in downtown Great Falls.

In 2018, it became the first step to art again after a two-year hiatus.

Now, in 2022, Nelson was one of five Great Falls artists to receive a $10,000 grant from the Montana Arts Council and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to complete an art project.

Nelson went to college to become a commercial advertiser. Somewhere along the way, however, she said her career fell apart. So she got married and started a family, doing flower arranging and painting.

She began to publicize her work, joining all the arts organizations Great Falls had to offer. She made art all the time. Then, Nelson said, she started having issues with depression. She said she had prayed a lot and made a decision.

“In 2016, I thought I wasn’t selling anymore and things were kind of slow, so I just gave up,” Nelson said.

She sold or gave away all of her art supplies and just went on with her life.

Fast forward to 2018, when famed muralist Cameron Moberg, in partnership with NeighborWorks Great Falls, created the first downtown murals as part of ArtsFest. That first year, Moberg asked Nelson for help. She was part of the project, which has become an annual event.

“He liked my work and said it would go great with spray paint,” Nelson said. “He opened up a whole new place of opportunity.”

Nelson had done a lot of pop art paintings, which Moberg thought would transfer well to the medium of spray paint. It was a kind of art that Nelson had always admired but never done because in most situations it’s against the law.

ArtsFest was the perfect outlet.

Not only that, it was the catalyst that brought Nelson back to art. It took her out of her comfort zone and she said it made her focus less on herself and more on the community.

In her fifth year of murals, Nelson said she was still learning. Doing such a large mural this year was a challenge, especially since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.

“I wanted to do this because I needed to challenge myself, not only personally in the art, but to challenge myself physically,” Nelson said, “because I just had chemo. and the radiation is still going on. So it’s like I have to start doing things again. I have to overcome that.

Nelson has nearly completed her radiation treatments and says she is feeling fine. She got a helping hand from her husband, Jamie, who took a week off to help with the mural. That’s a good thing, too, because this year’s ArtsFest took place in over 90-degree heat.

Nelson’s only complaint was that he had to leave his artistic rhythm every day to go to the radiation. Other than that it was quick breaks in the shade and lots of water.

Nelson said cancer changed his view of art. She no longer takes her abilities for granted and is also able to appreciate other people’s art more. She’s never been a big traveler, Nelson said, but she and her husband now take road trips just to look at other people’s murals.

It was Joan Redeen, Community Director of the Great Falls Business Improvement District, who told Nelson about the ARPA grant. Nelson said she jumped through all the hoops, but still didn’t think she stood a chance because there were so many worthwhile projects out there.

Money covered his time to paint a two-story wall with a ton of square footage. However, most of the time it was materials such as paint and a very expensive clear coat.

Nelson said she didn’t know which building she would get but knew as soon as The Living Room appeared that she wanted it. She had previously painted a mural inside the living room and made similar flowers when she painted the outside.

“Everything fell into place,” she said.

Nelson has more mural commissions coming up and wants to get back into acrylic painting and sell his work. Anyone wishing to order her can contact her via Facebook at www.facebook.com/shereenelsonart or on Instagram at @sartnelson. Its website is also undergoing a facelift.

“I have so many ideas over the past year of things that have changed my life, and I want to start putting them into practice,” she said.

Nelson added that she was honored to be the only Great Falls artist to paint a mural at ArtsFest this year.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “It was very cool to know that they trusted me enough…and then to do that and post it on social media and have people comment on it was very uplifting.”

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