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Tonya Nielsen Enters the Art Prize in Grand Rapids

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This larger than life NOW sculpture by Tonya Nielsen stands on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids an entry for Art Prize.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg resident, Tonya Nielson, has entered ArtPrize®, hoping to win part of the $560,000 prize money available in this year’s event. Her project is a huge structure that is a collection of clocks and watches, mounted on three giant letters, measuring 25 feet high, and 25 feet wide, which spell the word NOW.

Her desire to enter the contest began when she and her husband, Brad, visited ArtPrize® in the fall of 2010 which started her artistic juices flowing.

“I told Brad, I didn’t want to go to it, I wanted to be in it,” she said.

What she has created for this year’s ArtPrize® is a giant collage of clocks and watches, all mounted on plywood, a few of which will even be telling time while on display.

Tonya Nielsen climbs up the 25 foot structure to place the clocks and touch up the background plywood.

“I could see it all in my imagination upon awaking in the middle of the night on December 6, 2010,” she said. “I had prayed that God would give me an idea and in a few days I had drawn up the design and answered my own questions, started a clock collection, all based on three Bible verses, Second Corinthians 6:2, Luke 4:18, 19. It’s the time of the Lord. It is the time of the favor of God through our earth as a joyful kind of message. I want to create wonder, stir memories, and a time to think for viewers.”

Nielsen submitted her idea to the Art Prize committee in May of this year, then waited and waited for the Gerald R. Ford Museum to ask her to place the structure on their grounds.

“I had five offers of other locations but the only place I felt was right for it was at the Museum, so I kept waiting,” she said. “Finally they called and said they would be thrilled to display my piece. We swung into action at that point with Brad building the frame of the letters NOW and I started gluing and screwing clocks on the 24 x 32 foot panels.”

Friends had been collecting clocks for her, adding to the eight she already had. The collection expanded to over 1400 clocks. An old friend of hers, Linda Dickey collected between 300 and 400; her sister-in-law, Cindy Champion, found almost as many and Nielsen herself did the garage sale routine for quite a few special finds. The ugliest clock ever was found for 25 cents, and has a prominent place in the structure, she said.

“It was like putting a puzzle together with a random design of clocks fitting into the just right spaces,” she said. “The work was all about problem solving. My husband is the real star. He was just so patient and that was hard having 1200 clocks in our basement, because he is a neat freak.”

Brad and four of his friends helped take the structure apart, carefully loading it onto a truck loaned from his employer, Jergens Piping. They took it to Grand Rapids to be reassembled on the plaza outside the Ford Museum, where six or eight other artists’ work will also be on display.

If she should be so fortunate to win, Art Prize will keep her work. Otherwise she doesn’t know where it might find a home, as it has not been built to withstand a lot of severe weather conditions, she said.

The Art Prize competition brings over 240,000 visitors to Grand Rapids to view the exhibits and each person gets a vote along with an expert juried awards of $100,000. The prize money was put up by the DeVos family and other major sponsors as a way to build tourism for the city. The contest is only six years old, but has created national and international interest from artists far and wide. It opened on September 24 and closes October 11.

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