FREELAND — With so much to see, visitors to the 20-acre Cloudstone Sculpture Park weren’t likely to notice the tall, unassuming guy in jeans and a sock hat.
Henry “Hank” Nelson liked it that way.
He was the park’s creator, but he wanted the attention on his 450 sculptures, not on him.
Nelson died on Feb. 28 from complications of pneumonia. He was 84.
“Hank Nelson was an exceptionally talented sculptor who worked obscurely for many years on his piece of Whidbey Island paradise,” said Burt Beusch, a Cloudstone Foundation spokesperson. “He was very remarkable and very humble … and just a sweetheart of a guy.”
The foundation was established by Beusch and others in 2019 to preserve Nelson’s legacy, studio and inventory the three-dimensional sculptures. The group will continue to conduct tours of the park and host workshops in bronze, stone and wood.
A celebration of Nelson’s life is planned for July 16 at the park that is tucked away in Freeland at 5056 Cloudstone Lane.
About a dozen pieces by Nelson are on public display on Whidbey Island and Camano Island. In front of the Langley Post Office, bouquets of flowers were at the base this week of his bronze sculpture “Medjay, Egyptian Warrior.”
The other 450 sculptures are at the park.
“His heart and energy will be felt in his art, the land, and the stones he left behind for generations,” said visitor Kate Dussault of Langley. “Cloudstone is a perfect blend of the harmony between his life, earth and sky and Hank’s presence will always be there.”
Nelson worked in large scale stones, some weighing as much as 14 tons and larger than a truck. Others were the size of a chair. Some are detailed. Many are abstract.
His pieces reflect ancient warriors and royalty as well as the modern world. There are stones paying tribute to the Twin Towers. Some honor his wife, Deborah, who died in 2006.
The couple bought the Cloudstone property in 1993 and spent three years clearing the brush for the art park. He envisioned a small sculpture garden on the rolling grounds with trees and ponds. He got carried away.
Most pieces don’t show titles. Nelson wanted people to use their imaginations.
Nelson grew up on a ranch in Arizona.
“I acquired a solid foundation in stonework from building rock walls, shaping and lining canyons, and assembling causeways,” Nelson wrote in his artist statement. “Travels abroad influenced me greatly: temples in India, castles in Europe, and intriguing stone villages everywhere.”
Though mostly self-taught, he worked with a master stone carver in Italy and later in the University of Washington iron foundry.
“My cast iron phase was in the ’80s when I worked at a foundry learning the principles of casting,” Nelson told The Daily Herald for a 2019 story. “My granite phase started in the 1990s. Up until that time, I was strictly soft stone and then eventually knew I had to get into a different material, something I could place outside. With granite, there was not weathering like there is for marble.”
He typically didn’t sketch out a creation. He went by gut to bring out what was in the stone to begin with.
“You just go into the stone and start carving,” he said in the 2018 interview. “You either wind up with a pile of granite dust or you end up with something.”
For Nelson, it was not about knocking out the same pieces over and over.
“It’s all experimentation,” he said. “You don’t grow in this profession if you are stagnant. It is very easy to be stagnant and not grow.”
As he put it: “The real proof of advancement is whether I have made a spiritual contribution to the universe. Such is the power of stone.”
More at cloudstonefoundation.org.
Andrea Brown: email@example.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.
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