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Shoot, Don, shoot

I mentioned in the previous post a weekend that was spent in Newton County.

Fortunately, I get to visit beautiful Newton County several times each week without having to leave Little Rock. That’s because I’m on the e-mail list of Don Nelms. Arkansas is blessed with some fine photographers, and Don now has to rank near the top of that list.

I’m inspired by his story. I first got to know Don when I was a newspaperman covering Arkansas politics. Don always has been heavily involved in Democratic politics. Earlier this year, in fact, he left his lovely mountain home to come down from the hills to Little Rock so he could help Gov. Mike Beebe with the legislative session.

Don owned and operated some of the leading automobile dealerships in Northwest Arkansas for 32 years. He was there for the boom in the region, and his businesses boomed right along with Northwest Arkansas. In 2001, Don sold his dealerships to the Penske Auto Group. These days, he’s probably glad he’s no longer an automobile dealer.

Rather than hang around Northwest Arkansas, count his money and become a regular on the charity ball circuit, Don and his wife Millie chose to check out of the rat race and move to a sparsely populated county. That’s part of what fascinates me about his story. He said so long to one of the country’s fastest-growing areas, left behind a frenzied business pace and didn’t look back.

Instead, he went to the heart of the Arkansas Ozarks and began taking photographs — thousands and thousands of photographs. Photography became his passion. With each passing month, Don became better at his craft. Each year, he selects several hundred of the best photographs and prints them on canvas. They are framed without glass and shown at the Nelms Gallery.

You don’t just stumble across the Nelms Gallery, mind you. You have to be going there. The gallery is located atop Mount Sherman, four miles west of Jasper on Arkansas Highway 74. There’s a sign on the road. The grounds have more than four miles of walking trails. There also are ponds and picnic areas. There’s a porch on the outside of the gallery for sitting and rocking.

I can promise you it’s worth the trip. The gallery is open each Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. I suspect they also would open by special appointment if you were really serious about buying. You can check out the website at

Don, 63, was born in Paris, Texas, a town I know best as the place where Coach Gene Stallings lives. Don graduated from what was then East Texas State at Commerce and worked for GM for three years before moving to Fayetteville.

His gallery atop Mount Sherman held its grand opening in March 2008. The 4,000-square-foot home that was converted into the gallery has a contemporary feel inside.

Don told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “From the beginning, this has been about showing people the tremendous asset that the Buffalo River region is and to communicate that to as many people as possible. In this gallery, they’ll get a glimpse of what they could see if they spent time to go look for it. I’ve found a lot of places that the average person would never have a chance to go.”

Don Nelms, the self-taught photographer of the Ozarks, followed his heart. If he never sold another photograph, I sense that he would still be happy.

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