The Artist Within

Love for painting draws Nuss
out of retirement for
Kentucky Watercolor Society art show

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(October 2002) – Watercolor artist Jim Nuss has achieved a personal goal. He recently became an Artist Member of the Kentucky Watercolor Society.
After a self-imposed retirement of 17 years from the watercolor genre, Nuss became serious about painting again last year. Upon running into former society president Margery Welch at a funeral, he was reminded of the society’s upcoming 25th anniversary.

Jim, Georgia Nuss

Jim & Georgia Nuss

Welch asked him if he would consider entering a work for “Aqueous USA 2002,” the society’s annual national competition.
Nuss said he saw this opportunity as a challenge and knew then that his “efforts at teaching had paid off.” At the time, Nuss had just completed teaching a six-week watercolor class at Trimble County Public Library in Bedford. The class was sponsored by the Trimble County Arts Council.
Madison, Ind., resident Lisa Forner was one of these students. She said Nuss’ teaching revealed his deep passion for watercolor painting.
A novice at watercolor painting, Forner said this was an “explore and learn class. He showed us his beginning paintings,” in transition to his later works. Forner said he was a good coach by presenting his own method of watercolor techniques, which she found inspirational.
Teaching 13 students about the basics of watercolor painting had primed this Louisville native for his re-entry into the world of watercolor. “The best way to learn is to teach,” he said.
He knew this painting he was about to embark upon could be no ordinary work, but rather it had to be a painting of exhibition quality. It took him a month to finish his entry entitled, “After Luncheon on the Grass.”
“It is a tribute to Manet,” said Nuss, 65. In the 1863 Paris Exhibition, French painter Edouard Manet had entered a work that was rejected. That painting, “Luncheon on the Grass,” went on to become one of the master paintings in the world of watercolor and set the stage for the advent of Impressionism.
Nuss’ painting had garnered his inclusion for the third time into “Aqueous.” This status elevated him into a select group of Artist Members. Nuss faced stiff competition, his work being one of only 70 works to be accepted into the exhibition. The opening reception for the competition was held Sept. 20 in the halls of Actors Theater in downtown Louisville.
Inclusion in this exhibit can boost an artist’s professional career. Carol Wiseman, administrative assistant for the society, said Aqueous is “one of the top 10 shows in the country. It brings prestige to an artist’s work and is an asset on their resume.”
Wiseman also said national well-known artists juror the shows.
Nuss said these judges are “prominent in their own right.” They help set and maintain a high standard for the show.
Aqueous will remain on display at Actors Theatre through Oct. 20, then 20 works will travel to 12 different venues in Kentucky for one year, said Wiseman. The society also sponsors three other art shows a year.
Nuss has worked in all types of mediums, but prefers watercolor. “It is a challenge. There is a beauty to it. A watercolor glows when it’s done right.”
Although his artistic talent surfaced in grade school, Nuss did not take an art class until his mid-30s. He recalled thinking to himself, “If I’m lucky to live to be 70 years old, my life’s half over now. Why not do something I really want to do?”
That something was to pursue a career in art. He took night classes at the Louisville School of Art, attended workshops taught by professional watercolor artists and diligently read any art books he came across on all mediums of painting.
In the late 70s, Nuss began taking watercolor workshops at the Arts Center Association of Louisville (now known as the Louisville Visual Art Association). A growing interest in the watercolor medium among workshop students led them to organize a meeting to discuss future plans for a watercolor society.
Nuss said he attended this meeting “prepared to lay out a plan of action.” Armed with flip charts and the knowledge he had gained about organizing a society through joining the Southern Watercolor Society based in Tennessee, he gave a presentation.
Nuss already knew how to run a corporation. He had graduated from UCLA with a major in business management theory, plus he had a degree in engineering from Purdue University that was backed by experience in his family’s consulting engineer business. He took the basic principals of running a business and focused them on running an art organization.
Everyone was so impressed with his knowledge that he was asked to manage the newly formed Kentucky Watercolor Society as its founding director. “I made up my mind I would devote two years of my life to doing it,” he said.
What drove Nuss and the all-volunteer members of the society to succeed was a “love of the watercolor medium.” The society has been going strong now for 25 years, with more than 500 members across Kentucky and the United States.
“He’s part of the reason the society exists,” said Wiseman.
After his tenure as the founding president, he remained on the board of directors until 1985. In 1989 he turned his full attention to a farm he had bought in Trimble County.
He has been an active member of the Trimble County Arts Council for the past two years. Vice president Vicki Eldridge said Nuss contributes “fantastic ideas. He has such a knowledge of the things we’re trying to do.”
Eldridge said Nuss will again be teaching a beginner’s watercolor workshop in Trimble County in January 2003.

• For information about the next watercolor workshop, call Eldridge at (502) 732-0345.

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