A leading figure in the Canadian Maritime Craft Renaissance of the 1970s, Nel Oudemans’ personal journey to artistic excellence was marked by determination in the face of great adversity. Born in The Hague, Oudemans dedicated her early years to study. She was classically trained as a tapestry weaver and embroiderer at the prestigious Sāterglāntan Weaving School in Sweden and the Karen Prestard Studio in Heidel, Norway. The Nazi occupation of her homeland demanded great personal sacrifice and her artistic career was interrupted by the upheaval of World War II. In 1947, she and her husband left war ravaged Europe to embrace an uncertain future in Canada. Settling in Fredericton with her husband, Jack, Oudemans devoted herself to raising a young family but quickly became a noted resource in the artistic community.
Her knowledge and devotion to the history and tradition of craft sparked a renewed appreciation for weaving in the local artistic community. Working through the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, she became a beloved teacher and mentor. In later years, her home studio was equally a place of creation, instruction, mentorship and encouragement.
Oudemans worked tirelessly to establish the Christmas Choice Exhibitions and Sales at UNB’s Memorial Hall. Her signature hand woven wool and linen tapestries, coverlets, tablecloths and blankets inspired a new generation of Canadian fiber artists. Her knowledge of traditional patterns and techniques made her a nationally recognized resource. Of note was her work at Kings Landing Historical site, where she was the technical advisor on the assembly of looms as well as creator of coverlets using historically accurate patterns and techniques. As noted by Charlotte Glencross at the opening of a retrospective exhibition in 1999. “Her work is a technical tour de force.” Dorothy Burnham, Curator of Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum described Oudemans as “one of the most gifted artists in this part of the world.”
Her tireless mentorship, her mastery of traditional patterns and her innovative design work were recognized through many awards
- 1978 Best in Show Juried Biennale of the New Brunswick Craft Council
- 1987 Honorary Member of New Brunswick Craft Council
- 1989 Award of Excellence Mactaquac Craft Festival
- 1991 Fellow of New Brunswick College of Craft and Design
- 1995 Kjeld and Erica Deichman Award for Excellence in Craft
- 1995 Strathbutler Award for Excellence and Significant Contribution to Visual Arts
In 2002, the Nel Oudemans Award was established by the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation to honor Oudemans’ tireless support for emerging artisans. This juried award has grown in value and prestige. In 2015, the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation received a significant donation from the New Brunswick Foundation for the Arts to continue its work in honoring a great Canadian artist through the continued mentorship of young talents.
In 2020, The Board of Directors, increased the value of the award to $4000. Over and above the distinction associated with this award, the financial reward is dedicated to assisting emerging artisans in the establishment of a professional career.