Jim Kelso


Jim Kelso - Life Sketch 2012

Jim Kelso began his craft/art career in 1970 studying boatbuilding at Seattle Community College. After acquiring woodworking skills he soon began making stringed musical instruments, focusing on ornamentation and developing his skills in carving and inlay. In 1974 he began learning metal engraving, applied to banjo parts, and subsequently firearms, custom knives and swords.

This grounding in skilled ornamentation blossomed into a more artistic expression with Jim’s discovery of Japanese art, especially metalwork, in 1981. Immersed in this study,
Kelso was fortunate to receive two fellowships to study metal and wood art in Japan in 1988 and 1997. There he met many of the top craftspeople/artists in metal and wood, including his primary metal teacher Sakai Masaichi (Toshimasa), as well as viewing premier collections of work. Also in 1988 Kelso was honored to be commissioned to haft a sword in collaboration with Yoshindo Yoshihara, a leading bladesmith.

Since the 1980’s Jim’s work has garnered awards at national and international shows including the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Art Knife Invitational, Paris Custom Knife Show and the Knifemakers’ Guild Show.

Around 1985 Jim began designing and producing netsuke, jewelry and boxes in precious metals, Japanese alloys and enamel, merging Japanese and European techniques and aesthetics. That began a rewarding time of exhibiting in nationally recognized fine craft shows including the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show, winning first prize in 1995.

As his career develops Jim continues to exhibit and to be collected widely in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Most notably his work has been acquired by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian and more recently by the Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto where his work has been displayed alongside metalwork masters Unno Shomin and Shoami Katsuyoshi.

Kelso has lectured and demonstrated at the Freer/Sackler of the Smithsonian, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Colorado Metalsmiths, Society of North American Goldsmiths and the International Netsuke Society. His work has been featured in and on the covers of several books and periodicals.

His work is also in the collections of HRH Princess Takamado, Fleur Bresler, Eugene & Shirley Cordes, Catherine & Thomas Edson, Robert Kinsey, David Mamet, Laurence & Marlene Marton, Ruth Nutt, Valter Somaschini and Sylvester Stallone.

Currently Jim’s continued pursuit and study of new technique and form has led him to the current focus of making boxes, vessels, sculpture and small kenbyo (display screens) in wood and metal, all with a view to express his love for numinous nature.