Former dancer follows exhibit of butterflies with show on birds
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Former dancer follows exhibit of butterflies with show on birds

Jan 26, 2012

Nels Jorgensen isn't pretentious about pursuing the hobby he loves.

A pillow for his back and a piece of cardboard on his lap are all he needs to transform his tiny room into an exclusive art studio.

Sixty-two of Jorgensen's creations are in an exhibit titled "Artwork in Ball Point Pen and Watercolors," which runs through March 5 at The Senior Center, 2 Bank St., Batavia. The gallery space is a satellite gallery of the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council in Batavia.

Birds, animals and landscapes, similar to those in the exhibit, dominate the walls of the Jorgensen's room at Heritage Manor in Le Roy, where he has lived for the past two years.

Jorgensen, 78, had intended to pursue a career in the arts field, until he discovered ballet.

"I went to Arts High School in New Jersey for four years, then Cooper Union on an arts scholarship for two years," Jorgensen said.

But then he became interested in ballet, and art fell by the wayside.

In 1955 he was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet and by the second year was promoted to principal dancer.

"During nine years with them, I toured three times around the world, performed twice at the White House -- once for President Kennedy and again for President Johnson -- and performed for King Hussein and the Shah of Iran. I've had an absolutely charmed life," said Jorgensen, an early dancer for the famed company.

He went on to teach ballet in Kentucky, where he founded the Lexington Ballet Co. in the 1970s, and California for 30 years, before returning to Western New York to be near his sister in Pittsford.

His career took a few turns along the way, including six years and 25 different plays in theater in California and then a 10-year stint as patternmaker for BCBG in CA.

When it comes to the arts, Jorgensen said he can do anything. That includes knitting, something he started because he was bored, he said. He knits all his own sweaters (he owns 45) and has some in local shops for sale.

Moving to Heritage Manor gave Jorgensen time and reason to resume his interest in painting.

His first art exhibit on butterflies was a year ago. His love of animals prompted his current exhibit, which includes fish, ducks, tigers and bears, as well as domestic animals.

"Until I moved here, I had a dog all my life," he said.

He is already working on artwork for a new exhibit next year, which will probably be more of the same, he said.

He gets his ideas from magazines and books, which are stacked in a corner of his room.

"I draw anything which attracts my attention," he said.

He gives one-half credit for his talent to himself and the other half to God, he said.

Deeply religious, he said his final work of art will be to dance in heaven.

"There," he said, "I'll dance like I've never danced before."

A Quick Look

WHAT: "Artwork in Ball Point Pen and Watercolors," an exhibition of work by Nels Jorgensen of Le Roy.

WHERE: GO ART! Satellite Gallery at The Senior Center, 2 Bank St., Batavia.

WHEN: Through March 5. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call GO ART! at (585) 343-9313 or The Senior Center at (585) 343-1611.



A vintage video of Robert Joffrey's "Pas des Deesses," featuring dancers Nels Jorgensen and Lisa Bradley: 

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