Nichelson was born in Lafayette, Indiana in 1934, but moved to South Florida after high school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami. He completed his Master of Fine Arts at Indiana University before moving to Gainesville to start teaching in 1961.
Soon after he joined the faculty at the University of Florida, Nichelson traveled to Paris, where he was inspired by the Catholic churches, and specifically the reliquaries, which would greatly influence his later work. Nichelson was so moved and inspired by the reliquaries — which were beautiful containers that housed “sacred relics,” usually from saints — that he began to utilize and build upon the medium for his own body of work. His reliquaries were often called “box environments,” and they generally housed an eclectic mix of found objects. In 2011, Nichelson displayed his series “Jack Nichelson: Sojourner Dream Reliquaries” at the Harn Museum. Nichelson passed away on February 4, 2017.