Is it Junk or is it Art?

Edgar man pursues dream to create Fordhenge
By 
By Alastair Baker
News Editor<
Thursday, September 9, 2021
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The Fords are welded together and should stand for 30 to 40 years said Greg Nelson.

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Photos by Alastair Baker
Some of these Fords Greg Nelson originally hauled to Johnson Auto Wrecking in Billings. The blue-topped 1956 Ford, foreground, was even hauled from a river. “It sat there for 15 years, people got a lot of parts from it and I brought it back and set it in here,” he said.

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Photo by Alastair Baker
Greg Nelson stands by a 1950s Ford Mercury. The ravens adorning it will eventually be joined by sculptures of two vultures. A ‘Resembalist’ sculptor, Nelson once told his art professor “I‘m going to come up with my own ‘ism” and he did.

 

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Greg Nelson will be using different colored rocks to create a landscape of a riverbed running through the Memorial Garden.


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Greg Nelson, of Edgar, calls himself a ‘Resembalist’ sculptor, the art of taking on an existing item, changing its purpose, yet still retaining its original character.
With this artistic philosophy in mind, Nelson is following his dream to emulate Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, and the more famous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, albeit to a smaller scale.
Nelson’s property abuts the Burlington Northern railroad at the north end of town and use to house up to 13 Fords ranging from 1949 to 1951. High School students would even visit to have senior photographs taken there. He recently sold these Fords to purchase a 1941 Ford Custom.
As these vehicles moved out however an idea moved into Nelson’s mind to create automotive art and call it the Monte Howe Memorial Sculpture Garden after his long-time friend who knew everything about vehicles and was “the ultimate in junkyards,” said Nelson.
Nelson is quite qualified to attempt such a project, graduating from Montana State University, Billings, with a BS in Art, Teaching Art, and extended Teaching Major and from Wyo. Tech. in Auto Body and Paint.
To date, Nelson has placed or planted up to seven Fords behind his home/autobody shop that include a 1950 Mercury, followed by Fords from 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964. There is also a 1953 ¾ ton Ford Truck half-buried and now morphed into a flowerbed.
“The whole bottom of the cab on the 53 is rusted out and it has been well picked over down the years.  It makes a great flowerbed,” said Nelson.
Nelson plans to add another 7 Fords to the scene progressing down to 1950. All the Fords are four-door, a deliberate decision made by him “as anyone who restores cars knows you build 2 door as there is no money in restoring 4 door, so I tried to pick cars that no one would get upset about.”
“All the vehicles have been completely stripped. There are no engines, trans, or axles. They are very environmentally sound. They won’t leach into the ground and there won’t be a rodent issue with no interiors.
All of the Fords come from Johnson Auto Wrecking, Billings, and were paid for by hauling discarded autos to Pacific Steel and Recycling,” Nelson explained.
The work has been painstakingly difficult with Nelson, a disabled Veteran, feeling the effects of shoveling dirt day after day.
“Thanks to my stepson Chester for all of his help and my wife, Sherry, for her support,” he said in obvious gratitude.
The work has also helped to keep his mind occupied in light of losing two close friends recently who he will also honor by planting trees among the Fords. 
“Sherry enjoys planting flowers. We want a place people can take pictures to remember Edgar and put a smile on their face,” said Nelson.
Nelson carried out a lot of research before planting his first Ford and discovered there is “quite a lot of science involved” beyond just burying them with shovels and a backhoe.
“I laid out the measurement in spray paint.  A neighbor came down with his great big excavator. We’d dug the first two with a backhoe and discovered it wasn’t going to work. The machine we got was huge and could pick up the cars. And we discovered the best way to plant them was to stick them straight up in the air and drop them straight down.
We tried to dig at an angle and sliding them in, but it didn’t work,” said Nelson.
Each buried Ford stands in a hole 5 1/2 feet deep and required Nelson and his team to remove the fender because it was affecting the stability of the vehicle.
“We took the fender off and it went in great. We also discovered the front ends have to go off the cars, and we had to cut the front suspension, so it was actually like a fence post going in, and then they will stand up straight,” he said.  The average time he has spent getting each car into place is a day.
To prevent the Fords from rusting at ground level and tipping over, Nelson wheelbarrowed a lot of dirt into them that helps prevent oxygen from rusting the vehicles. He is also packing dirt against the roofs to stop them from collapsing.
“They will probably have rotted away sooner at a wrecking yard because the Cottonwood trees here just fill those cars full of leaves and packed moisture in them,” he said.
“It is junk or is it art?” said Nelson.
“Automotive art is not new. As Peter Warren, one of my art professors said, ‘Art is dead. Maggie lives!’ Meaning there are no new ideas. You have to adapt and be creative,” said Nelson.
“Art is subjective, you either like it or you don’t,” he said. “Art without comment is not art.  Good art will elicit a comment, negative or positive.”
Nelson hasn’t just used his artistic eye and talent to build a Fordhenge, he has also turned his hands to turning steering wheels into coffee tables or a 1954 Buick headlight ring into a clock. Inside his home, the back of a 1955 Ford Station Wagon doubles as an entertainment center, and his bathroom sink is the rear end of another Ford.
Nelson’s obsession with Ford cars comes from his dad who had a body shop.
“I grew up with Fords, my dad always had a Ford,” he said.
“My greatest fear is that people will try to treat it like the Cadillac Ranch and spray graffiti on them. I want the cars in their natural state with that patina. One of the things that is always fascinating about 1950s cars are the color combinations, the chrome,” said Nelson.
Nelson is presently on the lookout for a 1955 Ford. He has the remaining years already lined up.
“This is a lifetime dream.  I visualized this years ago so to actually see it come to life is something for me,” said Nelson.

 

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