Conversation with Artist Melanie Christie
*All images are curtesy of the Artist, please do not use without permission*
Melanie Christie was born and raised in Farmington, Connecticut. She studied costume design at SUNY Purchase and received a BA in Theater Tech. After college she worked as a free-lance scenic artist and decorative painter.
Melanie and her husband currently live in San Jose, California where they have raised two sons. She was instrumental in developing a formal art program in the local school district and ran their art program in a volunteer capacity, ensuring that every student had meaningful visual art education as a part of their basic education.
Melanie now focuses on making art full time in her home studio in San Jose. Her work can be found on her website at melaniechristie.com and at her Etsy Shop FlyingGlassArt www.etsy.com/shop/FlyingGlassArt.
Who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it?
Some of my earliest memories are of painting and paintbrushes. My parents were both artists and crafters who encouraged me to use my imagination and create with my hands. Through the years I have explored many media and always considered myself to be, at my core, a painter. However, in 2016, I began to explore the world of mosaic and my artistic horizons expanded.
I fell in love with mosaics while designing and facilitating the creation of a memorial mosaic at our neighborhood school. Based on all my prior experience as an artist, I approached mosaic as a painter would. So naturally I began to gather my colors. This opened up a search into a multitude of materials that included stained glass, paint, paper, china, ceramic, metal and of course - beads! I sought out every pattern and texture to use as my palette of colors. This journey felt like a key that unlocked the door to my true artistic expression.
Photo- OGG (Old Green Grasshopper)
Because of my turn to mosaics, my love for beads has been amplified. I love creating beaded mosaic sculptures that are both whimsical and elegant. I was over the moon to learn that I was awarded The Judges Choice Award for my OGG Old Green Grasshopper in the Museum of Beadwork’s inaugural Wings and Stings exhibit. For this challenge, I found a vintage Marx “Happy Hopper” ride-on toy to use as the base. I challenged myself by building the vest, wings and saddle to augment the substrate. And then, to complete the transformation, I used tens of thousands of gorgeous Miyuki beads. One of my favorite details is the brass bees I used as a nod to the brass tacks on a real leather saddle. I think the result is pure magic.
Photo - Owl Moon
I am also honored to be a part of the original Beading In Paradise group that started the Beaded Square project before the Museum of Beadwork took it over. I created 2 squares for this collaborative project. The first, Owl Moon is a piece I created pretty early into the pandemic to remind me to just breathe and that the serenity of nature will persevere long after the pandemic has passed. And the second, Mourning Flower is a memorial piece for my mother-in-law, who passed away in May 2020. But I feel it also stands for all of the victims of Covid-19. I am overwhelmed to be a part of this inspirational project that grew to include 541 squares from 18 countries and I can’t wait to see it all together on permanent display at the Museum of Beadwork.
What are your current inspirations and influences?
Beads!!! I absolutely adore beads! I started my bead collection in high school when I began to make and sell earrings. I loved going to the bead store and marveling at the selection, usually buying way more than I needed. My beads became part of the stuff that I carried throughout my life, from one house to another, until I was ready to use them, make more earrings or expand my collection. But it wasn’t until I started working in mosaics that my attention was turned back to beads as a source of small, intricate, bright, shiny points of light and color. Then I realized that the tiny bead collection that I carried through my life was not nearly big enough and the hunt for beads began. I want them all - every size, color, texture, pattern!
I’ve been greatly influenced by beading masters Jan Huling and Betsy Younquist. Their skill, creativity and artistic generosity are truly amazing and I am lucky to count them among my mentors. I am also fortunate to have been taught by visionary bead artist Nancy Josephson and Gale Antokal, my professor at San Jose State University. Their fearlessness and openness to unknown media applications inspire me to always try new things and open myself up to the possibilities that arise.
And finally, one of my dearest sources of inspiration is my mother, Barbara Eyre who died in 1993. She was an artist and painter who designed fabulous needlepoint canvases and painted beautiful designs on antique furniture. I spent years in her studio, learning, making, and collaborating. Her spirit remains with me in everything that I do.
If you were to pick a beloved piece from your collections and tell its story, what would it say?
Mom’s Chair, 2021
Photos - Mom’s Chair
I have had this chair that my mother used in her art studio for many years now. It is a sturdy, aluminum, midcentury workhorse that came out of dad’s construction company offices and into Mom’s art studio, where it stayed for 20+ years. I, myself used it in my studio for many years after that. But lately it had been relegated to the outdoors, where it deteriorated just enough for me to take notice and realize that it was ready for a transformation. At first I envisioned the piece as being covered in blue and white china shards and planted it in my perennial garden. However, when I brought the chair into my studio and began to attach the mosaic, it became clear that the piece would become much more personal to me.
The work became more like a series of memories rising, so the pieces of tessera I chose for this chair are all imbued with memories of Mom. The letters N.E.S.W. around the base are the points of a compass, just to keep me grounded. The roses, Mom’s favorite flower, are set like victorian valentines using german die cut paper from my dad’s own collection. Blue and white china will forever represent my mother to me. It was everywhere in our house. The zinnias on the seat represent a very early art memory of me and my mother drawing in her garden. Even the beaded ‘upholstery’ is patterned after the exact fabric on the chairs in our living room. And the faux finished dark wood grain evokes the wide planked wood floors of my childhood home.
This piece really came together with the use of my bead collection. I love the way the beads create the upholstery, in fact I used a transfer method devised from a skill I learned from Jan Huling. I drew the fabric pattern on paper, then using clear acetate and white glue I was able to lay down each line of color using size 8 Czech seed beads. This method allowed me to create the whole piece of ‘fabric’ and transfer the intricate pattern on to the chair in one piece.
I am really happy with the results and it has become a beloved piece. She is not relegated to my perennial garden, rather she sits pleasantly on our front porch where she brings a smile to the faces of all who come and go.
4. Do you have any upcoming projects, concepts, and new work we should look out for?
Photo: Rhino - WIP
I am currently working on a rhino that I started at a recent treasure hunting workshop with bead masters and mentors Nancy Josephson and Betsy Youngquist and a group of like minded artists. We had so much fun digging through warehouses of beads and jewelry. And I’m so looking forward to using all my treasures in upcoming projects.
Photo - Covid Preserves
And I am continuing to make more pieces of my Covid Preserves series. I began this series during the pandemic as a riff on hoarding supplies. Eventually the larger piece will include the proud owner of all of the canned beauties. I will post pictures on my website as they develop.
A huge thank you to Melanie for taking the time to share her work and her journey with us. -MOB-
- Heather Kahn