As a young girl,
dreamed of becoming a fine art painter. At 20 years of age, Nellie married Chrys and eight children later, her childhood dream of becoming an artist was almost forgotten.
Nellie had plenty to keep her busy. A hobby of making Christmas ornaments turned into a family business—Mother of Eight Designs. Her hand-casted ‘keepsake gift product’ grew to support the whole family and allowed them to move from Sunnyside, Wash. to North Dakota. The business prospered. Many of their products had a religious theme. At one Eucharistic Conference in Fargo, Bishop James Sullivan stopped by their booth. “He told me that he had taken some of our ornaments to Rome as a gift to Pope John Paul II,” said Nellie. “The bishop had placed them in the Holy Father’s hands who then gave our family a blessing by name…and I embraced the grace!”
In 2007, after the Edwards had moved to Butte, the four oldest boys started their own tiling business. The first big job for Edwards Brothers Tiling was St. Celia’s Church in Harvey. Fr. Michael Hickin wanted a Celtic Harp inlay in front of the Blessed Sacrament altar.
“The boys asked me to design a pattern for them,” Nellie said. “I found myself asking them to get me a PC tablet I’d seen advertised. I hoped it would help me get the right symmetry.” Little did she know, this would become her virtual canvas and brush.
Chrys started helping the boys with the tiling, so Nellie sold the family business. Using her new computer program, she began to experiment making small posters. But soon, she felt inspired to paint a picture of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. “I did not know where the inspiration came from, not even knowing much about Kateri,” she said. “I kept resisting because I knew I didn’t have that kind of talent.” Finally, she thought, “If this is an inspiration from the Lord, the outcome should make it clear.”
With no model and no formal training of any kind, a beautiful image of Blessed Kateri began to take shape. When it was completed, Nellie sent it to the Kateri Tekakwitha Foundation. “Congratulations! She’s just beautiful,” the director wrote back. Now that she was past the age of 50, Nellie’s childhood dream of becoming a real artist had begun. Within five years, on October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri a saint. In the meantime, Nellie’s image was used by magazines, calendars, and on a book cover.
Shortly after the ‘portrait' of Kateri, Nellie felt inspired to do a picture of an unborn child. Her passion for the unborn was a natural inspiration but she was unsure exactly where it was leading—she merely wanted to help cultivate a culture of life. “One day, I suddenly knew it was supposed to be Our Lord in utero.” The picture,
The Word Made Flesh
was born, of the Blessed Mother with Our Lord showing through the womb. Again, public reaction was very positive.
Nellie kept following her inspirations, even whey they seemed not to make sense. For instance, she received repeated suggestions from people to do an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I thought it was absurd,” she said. “I would tell them that the Blessed Mother had left her image so I wasn’t going there, period.” Even so, Nellie explained, “while painting one day, I felt strongly led to begin showing a profile view of Our Lady of Guadalupe, kneeling in adoration of her unborn Son and Savior.” It became “
Mother of Life
“I’ve received many calls from people about the strong effect this picture has had on them,” said Nellie. She recently heard from a counselor at a pregnancy center. The
Mother of Life
painting that was hanging in their waiting room touched a pregnant girl so profoundly that she credited it for her decision to keep her baby rather than to abort it as she had originally planned.
Mark Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts, the largest distributor of religious art in the U.S., described Nellie’s paintings as art that touches the soul. Nelson traditionally only reprints old Catholic art, but he said they have made exceptions with four especially talented modern-day artists. Nellie is one of those exceptions.
Last August, Nelson debuted Nellie and her work at the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow in Somerset, N.J. According to Nelson, there has been much positive feedback from retailers and customers who have been moved by her art. “She also writes beautiful poems and prayers that accompany her pieces so we have developed products that accommodate that,” he said.
In October, Nelson released Nellie’s latest image of our Blessed Mother:
Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
“It is a beautiful rendition of a centuries-old tradition,” Mark said. Pope Francis, when he was Bishop Bergoglio, saw the original image during a trip to Germany. He brought one back with him to Argentina and promoted the devotion.
Nellie’s new image shows the Holy Father offering up a knotted ribbon and interceding for the church with Mary untying the knots, which represent the sin and troubles of our world. With every print of
Our Lady Undoer of Knots
, Nelson will include a booklet with a powerful novena and the history of the devotion.
Last year, Nellie’s husband died of cancer, just as her art began to really take off. She turned to art as therapy and solace. “Whenever people tell me it’s too bad Chrys is not here to see this, I tell them, ‘Oh he sees, and I believe he’s praying for it.”
To learn more, go to Nellie’s website: PaintedFaith.net. Order her art through Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts at CatholicToTheMax.com.
>> For more, see the Nov. 2013 issue of the Dakota Catholic Action