Art Teachers Chad Manders and Jeff Nelson Exhibit Their Works at the Maple Grove Arts Center

Local art teachers share their expertise.
Jeff Nelson and Chad Manders

This month we have a rare opportunity to see the work of art teachers from our area at the Maple Grove Arts Center. This gallery show gives teachers, who spend so much of their time focused on the work of students, a chance to focus on their own work. While a number of art teachers will be a part of the exhibit, artists Chad Manders and Jeff Nelson in particular look forward to sharing a wide array of their works in many mediums.

Chad Manders arrived at Maple Grove Senior High School in 2010 after seven years teaching art and multimedia at North View Junior High. At Maple Grove, he teaches classes such as ceramics, computer art, advanced studio 2D design and advanced drawing.

“This is going to sound strange, but the event of 9/11 is what led me to become an art teacher,” explains Manders. “Before becoming a teacher, I was a graphic designer. Once 9/11 hit, however, I fell victim to ‘the last hired, first fired’ business model.”  

Manders says losing his job was the best thing that could have happened. “My production artist job was one of solitude and boredom … There was very little creativity involved. I love working with other creative minds. I love learning. [So] I decided to pursue more education in teaching.”  

He describes working with youth as one of the most challenging yet rewarding careers. “I learn something new every day and get to see the impact my hard work has on another individual,” he says.

(Photos courtesy of Chad Manders)

Manders feels fortunate to have the time to create his own art. He tends to work most often in drawing and illustration mediums—graphite, ink, watercolor and acrylic.  

“I love to illustrate, so from time to time I’ll just sit down at my desk or in front of the TV and just draw. I tend to stick to black and white illustration with pen and ink. I’ve been fascinated and influenced by the black and gray work of tattoo artists,” he says. “However, working with clay is one of my favorite things to do. I try to convey social issues through my work but combine them with wit and humor. I don’t take myself or my work very seriously.”

Jeff Nelson also teaches at Maple Grove Senior High School after three years at Osseo Junior High. His circuitous route to teaching has been informed by passion and discovery.

Directly out of college he headed into public relations, working in television on shows including The Simpsons and American Idol. “The work was fun, but I hated L.A.,” he says.

After a stint at a tech firm in Seattle, he realized that 50-plus hours a week at a desk was not his favorite gig. So he set out for a place without a desk in sight, the northern Minnesota wilderness, working with at-risk students in the summers and leading dog sledding expeditions in winter. It was during this time that he discovered a passion for working with students.

Like many of his present students, Nelson had always been interested in art but lacked the confidence to pursue it. But diverse life experiences led to making art into a reality, and an art degree and subsequent master’s degree in education didn’t hurt.

“I am all over the place, which makes me great for teaching art,” says Nelson. “I can do a little bit of everything.”

His passion began with computers and graphic design work, and this artistic angle has fed a love for the beauty of lowbrow band posters, T-shirts, skateboards, street art and other pop culture artifacts outside of traditional art parameters.

While in college, Nelson experimented with larger-scale mixed mediums such as screen printing on clay and digital transfer. “Subject wise, I have been hung up on the idea and concepts of masculinity in our modern-day culture,” he says. “What does it mean to be a man? Our fathers were the patriarch of the family, changing the oil on the family sedan, fixing the plumbing and drinking with the fellas. These days have long passed, but what has replaced them?”

Nelson admits to having a hard time striking a perfect balance between exploring his own artistic ideas and influencing the ideas of young people. “As a teacher, you put so much energy into being present for your students and provide them with culturally relevant experiences,” he explains. “At the end of the day, I am spent.”

He is thankful for colleagues, such as Manders, who encourage him. “I think we sometimes feed off each other’s excitement about random things and don’t want to let the other one down,” Nelson says.

(Photos courtesy of Jeff Nelson)

At The Show

Other artist-teachers participating in the District 279 Teachers’ Show include:

  • Linda Bechtol
  • Jennifer Cramer
  • Roberta Farrell
  • Amy Gale
  • Fern Keniston
  • Jake Manders

WHAT: Dist. 279 Teachers’ Show
WHEN: March 15–April 21; opening reception April 7, 6:30-9 p.m.
COST: Free
WHERE: Maple Grove Arts Center