SC artist represents state’s rural landscape in Smithsonian exhibit

His motto — “I make it cool to be from South Carolina.” The Smithsonian thought Ment Nelson’s words held weight.

Nelson, a Lowcountry artist residing in Varnville, population 2,200, now has his work in the national museum organization’s traveling exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America. Crossroads is being shown at Voorhees College in Denmark, SC until Dec. 9 and comes to the Newberry Opera House on Dec. 15, staying until February 2019.

The artist’s work often depicts scenes from his hometown, showing the culture of the black community. Abstracts aren’t out of his wheelhouse either. He also does still life painting and pop-culture inspired water color portraits. All of the different mediums each own a distinct look, with his cultural scenes endowed with the motion of Varnville life and his watercolors rendered with a country Andy Warhol feel. The connecting element is rural South Carolina be that sinew in the creator’s inspiration or depictions.

The Charleston City Paper said his arts contains “an unusual degree of warmth and familiarity.”

The Smithsonian’s Crossroad exhibit offers “small towns a chance to look at their own paths to highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century,” according the traveling show’s website. “The exhibition will prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.”

Nelson art will be in Crossroads for the six years, he said over social media.

“So honored to represent my rural community on a national scale,” Nelson posted on Friday.

The piece by Nelson included in Crossroads is called “Old Sheldon” and it depicts his grandmother casting a basket into marsh waters along with a man toting fishing poles and another on a lawn mower. The exhibits connects Nelson’s work with the lyrics of a country song about growing up in a small town.

Beyond creating art, Nelson is a champion for South Carolina culture, often providing small history lessons over his Twitter about people from the Palmetto State who have made a name for themselves as well as pushing other creators, artists, and others entrepreneurs coming out of the state.

“We live in a society where people make us we feel we need all types of things for fulfillment,” Nelson said in a broadcast for South Carolina ETV. “But all you need is a thought, a good idea. From that little place, it can change the rest of your life.”

You can find Nelson’s art here and more information on Crossroads here.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.