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Joe Heaps Nelson

1968 - 2018
Joe Heaps Nelson Obituary
Joe Heaps Nelson

Des Moines - Joe Heaps Nelson died in Des Moines on April 16, 2018, of brain cancer. He was 49. Joe was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on September 16, 1968, and lived in Humboldt, Iowa, until the family moved to Des Moines in 1973. He graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1986 and earned a B.A. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990.

Joe first gained notoriety as a teen for his hand-drawn fanzine, Buffalo, which was read across the country. For most of the last three decades, he lived in New York City and worked as an artist and art handler. His paintings and drawings celebrate America, depicting cheerleaders, state birds, boxing, wooly mammoths, and truck stops along with bulldogs, a subject of interest since childhood. His work has appeared in dozens of gallery shows in New York and across the U.S.

Joe served as a good example. He was a free spirit: brave, kind, hard-working, and hopeful. His intellectual life was rich and varied, and he discussed sports statistics as easily as history, literature, politics, and painting. Joe was a loving son, brother, nephew, and uncle, and a world-class friend. He is survived by his parents, David J. and Jean Nelson of Des Moines, his siblings Anne, Bill, and Mary Nelson, his brother in-law, Jason Pontin, and nephew and niece Alonzo and Ada, along with many beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

A memorial service will be held Monday, May 7, 11 am, at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the Des Moines Art Center for its Art Access outreach programs or the Friends of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, a restored prairie and buffalo habitat. You may wish to plant a tree in your community to remember Joe and to encourage wildlife.
Published in Des Moines Register on Apr. 22, 2018
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