Nelson, BC: Canada’s Best Small Art Town

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When “The 100 Best Small Art Towns In America” was published—which includes Canada’s best, too—it gave Nelson, BC top billing for Canada.

The publishers got it right.

Brass instruments on streetscape in Nelson, BC.

Nelson displays its love for the arts.

When I first arrived in Nelson, I saw the creativity, not just in storefronts (though there was that a’plenty), but also in the people themselves. On any given day in Nelson, you’ll find an eclectic crew – folks who express themselves in their street music; by creating varied dishes for the many restaurants around town; in the clothing they make, sell, and wear; and even through the words they place in the locally-produced magazines and books.

Custom trucker caps on wall of Cut Threads in Nelson, BC.

Handwoven designs integrated into trucker caps by local artist Branda Christoffersen of Cut Threads.

This small town of 10,000 people create some of the most unique works I’ve laid eyes on (and tasted). Even after living in an urban area of two million people in the States and visiting many artistic communities, Nelson is, per capita, astounding.

Heart Gallery's storefront on Baker Street in Nelson, BC.

Heart Gallery, one of the handful of unique shops found in Nelson that feature local artisans.

Walk down Baker Street—the main thoroughfare of town—and you’ll see what I mean: cafe walls are plastered with local photography and paintings, stores sell hand-wrought furniture and folksy paper cut-out art, bakeries whip buttercream deliciously high on cupcakes and bake golden-hued breads, buskers perform with vocal and instrumental skill. The sensory overload spills down adjoining streets, only stopped by Kootenay Lake’s shoreline.

Ceramic ware in Hear Gallery's storefront in Nelson.

Another shot from Baker Street’s Heart Gallery.

Salmon art installation in Nelson, BC gallery.

Spawning salmon on display in larger-than-life focus.

Lion's head sculpted from metal frpm Craft Connection in Nelson.

A number of wonderfully sculpted metal pieces adorn the Craft Connection‘s space. As an example of how integrated the arts are in the community, similar pieces have been showcased during Whitewater Ski Resort‘s Coldsmoke Festival in the main thoroughfare of the winter event.

Events throughout the year make good use of all the talent, too. In summer, street markets happen twice weekly and there’s a monthly evening street festival with music, crafts, and food carts; in the winter, Whitewater Ski Resort’s Winter Carnival shows off intricately carved, larger-than life snow sculptures and local bands—not to mention the award-winning dishes their culinary crew cooks up for hungry skiers the entire ski season. And throughout the year, Touchstones Nelson – Museum of Art and History rotates through exhibitions of local creatives, capturing the diverse landscape of the arts represented in the region.

Local Kootenay artistry in Craft Connection in Nelson.

The Craft Connection displays furniture, lighting, ceramics, large-scale art, and everything in between.

A favourite stop of mine is Craft Connection. I came upon it as I was hunting for a unique gift last Christmas during a last minute shopping run on Baker Street. Craft Connection, a mix between gallery and boutique, is a cooperative of Kootenay-region artisans who specialize in wood, leather, metal, clay, glass, fibre, wax and jewellery. Walking through, you’ll see the materials used in uncommon works; everything from delicately-patterned jewelry, to home lighting accessories, to detailed period-style clothing.

Bird pendant in Nelson art gallery.

The details etched into this artist’s jewelry made me take notice.

Teapot in the Craft Connection in Nelson, BC.

The Craft Connection featured entire sets of artists’ work, including this piece that was part of a line of pottery featuring darkly-coloured animals against soft-hued backgrounds.

Not that I’d want this shared with the recipients of my Christmas gifts, but I spent more time in Craft Connection mulling over which piece to wrap up and place under the tree than I did selecting the entirety of gifts on the rest of my list.

Custom driftwood table lamp from the Craft Connection in Nelson.

This light’s golden glow and soft curves were enough to drift me into dreamland. Well, they would have had I not been in the middle of a busy downtown gallery!

There is so much to explore in Nelson —and this is just a sampling of the Kootenay-region artisans who display their works in Canada’s “Best Small Art Town”.