Meet the Stillwater Carver Who’s Carved Everything from Santa to a Minnesota Photographer

Stillwater man perfects his talent for woodcarving.
Ron Nelson with a display of his carvings at Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia.

During a trip to his childhood home in Stillwater, woodcarver Ron Nelson found a pin he had carved for his mom in the seventh grade. That was in 2001. Since then, Nelson has carved thousands of pieces for his community and family.

Nelson received lots of encouragement along the way. His son, an artist, gave him the tools he needed to work on his art form. Nelson even found a book about woodcarving in the Scandinavian shop, Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis.

After years of perfecting his craft Nelson primarily carves people, though he’s worked on a wide range of projects, from bottle stoppers to snow people. One notable carving is of Minn. photographer John Runk holding his box camera. They were sold for $150 each by the Stillwater Public Library. A Runk carving is still featured in the library’s St. Croix Room.

Nelson is also well known for his carvings of Santa Claus every year. He has been giving the Santa sculptures to the local courthouse for eight years. Each year the courthouse receives eight to 24 such sculptures to sell. The money raised goes to renovation of the court house. Nelson also sells his festive seasonal sculptures to Stillwater churches, the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia and the library.
Finding Nelson engaging in his community is pretty regular. He’s taught classes through ArtReach and made an appearance at the Midsommar Dag festival at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia. Nelson is particularly inspired by the Scandinavian style of carving, so being featured at Gammelgarden along with other carvers seemed natural. And, thanks to the prodding of his son, you can even find Nelson’s work at the Minnesota State Fair.
Nelson carves two days a week at two different carving clubs, one at the Gladstone Senior Center in Maplewood and the other in Hudson, Wis. He likes the experience of working in clubs because it gives him more exposure to different techniques and styles. Plus there’s great inspiration to be had when being in a community of other artists.