“It’s been my only dream – whatever my dad was doing, that’s what I wanted to be doing. I never wanted to be a fireman. I just always wanted to work for my dad,” explains Travis Nelson as we walk through Kalahari Resort and Convention Center. Travis’s dad, Todd, is the mastermind behind three Kalahari properties, the latest of which will open its doors this summer in Pocono Summit. “Why do I want to work for my father? Why do other people want to work for him? It’s his personality and passion for what we’re doing. This is the happiest he’ll be all week, opening all this stuff. It might sound cliche, but it’s literally our life, this happiness and people can feel it.”
It’s true, the excitement the Nelson family exudes is contagious, particularly with the project of the day. The “stuff” he references is four massive cargo crates full of authentic African art, purchased by the Nelson family during their October 2014 African adventure. The trip yielded nearly half a million dollars worth of art, purchased from artisans in markets in several African countries. “This is really awesome, to be able to be authentic Africa and tell stories through art and have the real thing. It’s not pink elephants and cartoons here; it’s the real stuff,” Travis marvels.
The art of Kalahari reaches every corner of the resort. Most of the pieces will be integral in the decor, some will be for sale, and art tours will be offered to guests. Travis recalled the family’s trip: “We had some really cool adventures. No matter what we were doing or where we went, what my dad enjoyed most was buying art.” Dad (Todd) explains, “It’s really neat, shopping for all of this. We’re sitting in this market and I’m saying to my wife, ‘I love these ladies but I just don’t know what to do with them!’” The “ladies” are a series of five soapstone carvings ranging in size from two to seven feet. These are the first items to have gained placement in the resort; they will welcome guests to the spa at Kalahari. After the resort opens, Kalahari will also feature an African art museum. There will be a few pieces for sale, but the majority of the installation will tell the story of Africa through art.
In addition to the African pieces, custom created artwork is found throughout the resort. The lobby’s floor, “is literally a work of art. It’s called terrazzo. It’s different murals inside the floor- zebras and flamingos and giraffes and elephants,” explains Travis. The process of the floor is remarkable – a steel frame of the animal is placed on the subfloor and filled just like a “paint by number” kit. The floor cures, is smoothed, cleaned, and polished. The result is durable and beautiful.
One of the most spectacular features of the property is at the entrance to the Convention Center. A 41 foot, 20,000 pound metal tree has been crafted by the in-house art development team, custom cut and hammered from bronze, brass, copper, and stainless steel, each piece dyed with fire or chemicals to create a one-of-a-kind sculpture. The “ndoto na kujenga” tree is Swahili for “dream and create.” Dreaming and creating is what the Nelsons have excelled at. For Travis, “We know we have a superior product and if we don’t, we’ll make sure we do.”
To learn more, go to kalahariresorts.com
by Juliet Dunham