Packing up his parents’ belongings was tough.
Eight years ago, Ball State alumnus Eric Nesheim, ’73, sold his childhood home in Marion, Indiana. His mother had died two years previously and his father had moved to Colorado to live with Eric’s sister. It was time for Eric, a retired art instructor, to close the estate.
But taking down a framed portrait pulled at Eric’s heart.
That work of art, just a few strokes of charcoal on a mustard-colored paper, portrays Eric as a young man, sitting on a floor, posed casually and looking directly at the viewer. Behind Eric, a woman, seated on a stool, faces away.
The sketch recreates what happened one day inside a Ball State classroom, in the early 1970s — a day Eric remembers well.
“It was a life drawing class,” he said. “Usually they had a nude model. That day, we were going to draw people in clothes. I volunteered to be one of the models.”
A lasting image
One of Eric’s favorite instructors, accomplished watercolor painter Jim Faulkner, ’59, MA ’60, taught the course and drew the sketch. Originally from Kentucky, Faulkner moved to Muncie in the 1940s to work in a factory before launching a career as a professional artist and instructor. He is known for his landscapes and is one of the most collected artists of east central Indiana.
Faulkner taught at the University from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1980. He lives in a Muncie nursing home now. Faulkner said Eric, who majored in Visual Arts, stood out.
“He was a good kid and he worked hard,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner had a habit of drawing with his class, offering students a chance to watch a professional at work.
“At that time, a lot of instructors felt you shouldn’t demonstrate,” Faulkner said. “I think the idea was that you didn’t want people copying. But that’s the way you learn.”
The portrait of a young Eric Nesheim is one of dozens of quickly drawn sketches by Faulkner that semester. They were on cheap paper. Most ended up filed away in Faulkner’s belongings, rarely seen again. Eric, however, wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Could I have this?” Eric asked Faulkner after class. “I’d like to give it to my mom for Christmas.”
“Sure,” Faulkner said.
Eric sensed some reluctance when he asked for another favor. He wanted Faulkner to sign the sketch, too. Many artists will only sign a finished piece of work. But Faulkner graciously agreed.
A Marion shop framed the portrait just in time for Christmas.
“My mom was just absolutely thrilled,” Eric said.
Passing it on
The sketch that Faulkner completed in five or six minutes hung in the Nesheim home for more than 30 years. As time passed, the drawing’s sentimental significance ballooned, taking on heirloom status.
That’s because the sketch ties together so many important threads in Eric’s life.
It reminds him of his mother, Donna Vice Nesheim, a successful florist who encouraged her son to pursue art, even when others suggested a more practical career. It connects him to his alma mater and to an important mentor. And, finally, it represents Eric’s own teaching career, and the students whom he has influenced.
Eric taught art for 29 years at Madison College, formerly called Madison Area Technical College, in Wisconsin before retiring in 2008. He has worked as a freelance illustrator for several publications, developed a trading card set, and has written and illustrated a book about the country’s fascination with flying saucers. At times, he has collaborated on projects with his daughter, Christine, a photographer, and his son, Leif, a writer.
Students Eric mentored and befriended in Madison included award-winning comic book artist Steve Rude, who developed the series “Nexus” and has worked for D.C. and Marvel comics.
Faulkner, Eric said, served as role model. He inspired Eric to be down-to-earth and to emphasize technical instruction through hands-on demonstration.
“Mr. Faulkner was not a pretentious person,” Eric said. “He was easygoing, kind and helpful. If you had a question about how to do something, he would try to show you. That experience is what I tried to bring to my students.”
The portrait hangs in Eric’s Wisconsin home now.