A brief biography
Jim Nickel was born in Oak Park, Illinois, November 30, 1943. He grew up in a household that could have had a television and a car but chose not to until he was in eighth grade. This worked to his advantage: He ranged widely and independently on bicycle, bus and Lake Street El. His primary creative outlet: an American Flyer model railroad, with intricate buildings, mountains, bridges, and forests, all of which he made from balsa wood, cardboard, airplane glue, lichens, old screens, plaster of Paris, and papier maché.
Nickel earned a B.A. in philosophy and classical languages from Concordia Senior College in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He studied three years for the Lutheran ministry at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, including a full year of internship — a vicarage — in Cleveland. He left the seminary in 1968, and began studies at the Washington University School of Fine Arts. During two years at Washington University, he worked for Ernö Koch, a local sculptor, enlarging Koch’s small pieces for large outdoor commissions in welded steel. He learned photography, welding, and printmaking from Koch and remained in the Brentwood studio after Koch’s death in 1970.
Nickel developed his own work in the Brentwood studio until 1978, showing at the Terry Moore Gallery downtown and at Mark Twain Banks among others, and he taught three-dimensional design in the core program at Washington University. The St. Louis Art Museum purchased one of his
large tape paintings in 1975 for its permanent collection.
In 1978, Nickel moved to New York where he earned an M.F.A. in sculpture at Columbia University (1986) and a teaching certificate from Columbia Teachers College. He has been a visiting artist in the New York State school system and continued his work at his Brooklyn studio, rotating among sculpture, painting, and photography.
In the summer of 2019, after nearly 40 years on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, Nickel moved his studio — power tools, hardwood supplies, work in progress, office furniture, recorded music collection, and lots more — to Woodstock, New York. His principal residence remains in New York City. His work is represented by Atrium Gallery, St. Louis.