Melanie's studio is located a short walk from Chinatown in an older brick building. The elevator is rickety and the hallways are lined with a spattering of trinkets expressing quirks of the folks that inhabit each individual apartment.
Hers is a true studio, white walls lined with shelves that hold her latest molds and creations along with the work of her diligent and delightful students. There is a shelf that stretches 3/4 of the way to the ceiling, separating the entry way/kitchen area from the workshop where she guides the hands and minds of many. The environment is cleanly but welcoming, boasting hand made modeling stands and a rotating platform that was constructed for her by a skillful and gracious student. There is a lot of love and hard work that has gone into that space.
This is how I know her. A warm and kindly teacher, a respected Artist, and a great conversationalist. She is strong and carries herself with calm confidence. Something that I feel is required when your art form is one of physically moving large amounts of materiel in a precise manor.
I can see why students keep coming back. Her stability and pleasant demeanor make for a comfortable environment perfect for the growth of learning a new artistic practice or refining one's skills.
I've only ever experienced her when modeling for classes and workshops. Her teaching method is patient but direct. She finds the perfect balance between sharing her passion within the structure of steady learning, and laughing at herself in delightful humanity. She upholds a strong respect for her models and (in my experience) is very conscious of making sure everyone is comfortable. It shows that she takes great care of her surroundings and it seems to be important that the space in which she shares her passions is an accurate reflection of her personality. Functional but warm.
Though she would sometimes fumble her tools and I would find ways to bug her for the odd grammatical error, her artwork was always inspirational. She would fly through a 4 hour session, finding time to tend to questions from each individual and managing to build a breathtaking sculpture, beautifully unrefined and intriguing in its honesty.
I would often watch her as she would step back and forth, eyes darting from a section of me to the clay and back again, feet usually tapping to the comfortable grooves she almost always had playing quietly in the background. Her focus never failed to entertain me and I loved how her expression would change so drastically. When in conversation her eyes would be bright and smiling, but once she got to work, there was an unmistakable intensity about her gaze. It's as if you could actually see her mind dissecting and analyzing each individual section of her work. And yet she would answer all of the curious inquiries that bubbled up from me with ease, all the while constructing a surprisingly accurate image from what was once a lump of grey.
The pictures seen here are examples of her finished work, which I don't think I have ever really seen before. Everything I witnessed was raw and yet incredible.
If you ever feel like learning a thing or two and getting your tactile on, I highly suggest taking a class from her and absorbing some of her wisdom. She has a vast respect for the greats that came before her, an ability to bring comfort to the sometimes prickly process of learning new things, and will most definitely lead you to a more creative place.
Here is your chance to get to know her a little better.
1. When did you first start to explore sculpting? Was it something you liked right away or did you grow into it?
Well, I made little animals out of mud in my backyard as a kid, but it wasn't until art school that I even really thought about sculpture. The physicality of the clay appealed to me, and felt very natural.
2. What other art forms do you enjoy, what draws you to them and how often do you get the chance to move those muscles?
I enjoy drawing, writing, movement practices and music. Drawing is a part of my regular art practice and the others are very ancillary. I often just enjoy them vicariously through the excellent work of others.
3. Are there any life lessons that sculpting has taught you?
Sculpture as an art really taught me the power of focus and dedicated practice. The most important thing is to show up. This developed a very strong core of confidence in the power of the process and letting yourself trust it.
Sculpture and art education as a career choice has taught me many lessons- from business skills like marketing and time management, to interpersonal and leadership skills. I was a very shy and introverted youth, but now I can pass as pretty outgoing.
4. What does an average morning look like for you?
I try to maintain an early schedule. 3 days a week I hit the gym, and the other days I let the morning dictate what is needed. This always involves plenty of coffee.
5. Do you feel like there is a general message that your work is trying to get across/celebrate or does each piece say something different from the rest?
I try to let the body speak through its shapes, gesture and mood.
6. When you are in your creative space, your zone, at your most focused and productive, what does that look like for you? (Speaking on a large or small scale.)
For creation in the studio, its usually when I begin a new work that I feel the most energy. Often times this is with a model there, which always presents something completely new and the advantage of a time limit which helps to dispel any distracting thoughts. My favorite process at the moment is short 1 hour gesture studies in clay at a small scale (12"). It gives an incredible energy.
7. What is the most interesting situation or life circumstance that sculpting has lead you into?
It's liberating to have art as a way of life. For the past couple years this has allowed me to design my own sculpture programs, organize group sculpture trips to Italy, and spend time in Paris museums studying the masters. It also bring you in contact with other artists around the globe, which is always interesting!
8. How do you feel your work has evolved over the past 5 years? Do you like your previously completed pieces?
One always hopes they are improving, or at least developing. There is some early work that makes me cringe a bit, but then others that surprise me by still holding my interest. I enjoy a piece the most while it is in process. It's hard to be objective about your own work.
9. What benefit does teaching bring you and where does it effect you negatively?
It's created a wonderful community of people interested in sculpture. I love being able to provide a space for people to come and experience a different way of thinking. They also teach me so much, and bring alot of humor and joy into the studio.
From a career point of view, it is hard to have the time and energy for 7 classes a week and creating your own work. It is a juggling act.
10. What would you say is your best and worse piece of Art that you've made?
The worst is the one that I never made, and the best is the one I am just starting.
Bonus Question - What music/band has tickled your eardrums lately?
Lately I've been listing to instrumental music. Film scores, electronic mixes, etc.
For more information on her and her classes, or for more examples of her work go to her website at:
Many thanks to Melanie for letting me poke at her brain and putting up with my questions during classes. You're a rad human being.