History of Toothpick Artist, Nelson Ulysses Pantoja

About Toothpick Artist Nelson Ulysses PantojaBorn in the Bronx on April 1, 1963 - yep that’s right, April fools' day - to the Puerto Rican parents Orlando and Iris Pantoja. I remember at an early age my parents introducing me to all forms of music. My father was a latin percussionist who made sure I knew about our heritage, our language and salsa music. He also loved classical music and rock music. My mother on the other hand, is the one who raised me after my parents divorced. (Which was shortly after my father returned from Vietnam) Times were hard, I grew up very poor living on welfare and helping raise my two younger sisters. My mother was a sick women. She had asthma with one lung lost to tuberculosis, breast surgery and two tumors in the brain. Yep, my mom - the bionic women.

United States FlagPuerto Rican Flag

Despite all the hardships, my mom made sure we knew about all forms of art. She introduced us to various musical genres and artists such as; Janis Joplin, The Beatles, The Stones, Joe Cocker, The Mamas & the Papas, all of the great Motown artists, Blue Grass and Country music. Movies? I remember watching films and actors like; Gone with The Wind, Fiddler On The Roof, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Bridge on the River Kwai - John Wayne, Robert Dinero, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Humphrey Bogart, Laurence Olivier, Liz Taylor and so on... too many list. Now arts and crafts - forget about it - we made everything. Yet despite all the activities... there I was, 13 years old walking to school with some friends one day, when someone had a brilliant idea that we should play hooky. So of course after they "twisted my arm", we cut out that day and went to the park ...and what a great time we had. Everything went so well we decided to cut school the whole week! Now... how the hell was I suppose to know that on Friday my mother would head over to my school to check up on me. Yep, that damn mothers intuition. Busted! Man did I get my ass whipped. Not only did I get that "good old fashioned ass-beating" but, I also got grounded for the entire summer - two months in my book, cruel and unusual punishment.

So... bored out of my mind I found some toothpicks & glue and - voilà - my first sculpture was born. The Red Baron plane from the Charlie Brown cartoons. However... it didn’t seem quite complete. It was all skeletal and needed to be colored. So what could I use? Hmm... I know! I'll use my stepfather's Bamboo rolling paper. He has a bong so he won't miss it! - Yeah right! So after I got my ass whipped again! (The bong was cracked. Who knew?) I decided against rolling paper. I started creating space ships and misc. stuff.

I always gave the pieces away because they would get destroyed at home. (Two little sisters remember!) Then I stopped doing them for awhile. But after much persuasion, I decided to get serious and put together a collection of sculptures that people can relate to. Some of them are issues that I can’t get out of my head. New ideas and designs occupy my thoughts constantly. Once I start making a sculpture it kind of makes me nuts until I complete the piece. It's like nothing matters until its done. It's my therapy, my release and my passion. I love to see the look on peoples faces when they see my sculptures for the first time. - Like the inter-racial married gay couple with a baby.

Who gives a shit! A great man once said, “Any Kind of Love Is Good Love.” (That would be John Lennon.) Or my African American Mt Rushmore with Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. People love that piece and of course you have the occasional asshole who doesn't? Or my collection of Trees, which have real life scenarios. Have you ever seen a Great Oak, Maple, or Weeping Willow so huge that you know has to be like 100 years old. If a tree could talk, what would it say? What has it seen? A tree house - A cat stuck on a limb? - A witness to a lynching? - The Battle at Gettysburg? These are just a few of my pieces which I hope you'll enjoy viewing in my GALLERY. - Please feel free to pass the site on to your family & friends. And remember... you're always welcome to come out and join me at my next EVENT.

- Nelson U. Pantoja

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