During more than four decades — in St. Louis, in the Manhattan Garment District, and since 1987 on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn — Jim Nickel has created a richly varied yet cohesive body of work. He works across the genres, using photography, drawing, painting, and sculpture to develop his ideas. He creates with materials at hand: exotic hardwoods, the frame of an old handtruck from the Macy’s dumpster, precious metals, castoff ballast from boxcars, a bucket of roofing tar, lumps of fossilized dinosaur dung.
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 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 continues to work in his Brooklyn studio, rotating among sculpture, painting, and photography.