Bits & Pieces

New work by Melanie Wesley at the Tara Davis Studio Boutique

Melanie Wesley has been creating for over 25 years and she doesn’t make mistakes anymore – well, kind of.

Wesley is a self-identified craftswoman, a title she wears with pride, and she tackles both large and small-scale pieces with equal gusto and mastership. She will display those pieces big and small at her first solo show at Tara Davis Studio Boutique (located at 246 McDermot Ave.), opening on Oct. 5. The show will display Wesley’s work from the past year, including the piece she is most proud of – a hand-stitched, dyed, and painted dress entitled “Grounded.”

“I used to be the kind of person that used to obsess about making a mistake, but in the past year I decided that I wasn’t going to think about mistakes,” admits Wesley and adds that she stopped over-planning and sketching her work and decided to focus on working intuitively.

“I don’t want this to sound pretentious or conceited, but I don’t really feel like I make mistakes. I feel like I am okay with everything that comes out and I have made room for things to be imperfect. I feel like I’m working straight from my heart, and there can’t be any mistakes when you do that.”

The raw edges, loose threads, and unfinished seams that Wesley does not consider mistakes play off of the delicate painted flowers and hand stitching that adorn the piece. Wesley says that the piece defines where she is feeling in her practice as an artist; the roots attached to the dress make it clear that she is creating from a truly grounded place.

Bits & Pieces perfectly describes Melanie’s work; she draws from her many talents and has created a body of work that seems very diverse – however when those ‘bits and pieces’ come together they exemplify the strong visual and cohesive aesthetic that is Melanie Wesley,” says curator Jennifer Smith.

This is exemplified perfectly in her incredibly detailed dolls, which appear as a theme in Wesley’s work and marry perfectly her various skills in crafting and her art practice. She began as a seamstress and progressed from there, refusing to classify or label her work as either art or craft specifically, and her art dolls exemplify that. The multi-media pieces feature the same attention to and care for the small details with excellent embroidery, needle felting, and sewing; but, also convey the value of fun and play that Wesley uses as guiding principles in her practice.

“Growing up I probably played with dolls until I was too old – I made their clothes, made paper dolls and then I had three boys who were not interested in dolls. I spent a long time thinking ‘I am too old to be playing with dolls?’ It makes me happy [though] so I do it,” says Wesley.

Wesley’s work is overtly feminine and her decision to identify herself as a craftswoman was one that was made intentionally. A stay-at-home, home-schooling mother, she was originally hesitant to embrace these roles with pride. Although she was never ashamed of her life decisions, she was hesitant to define herself by them. The title of craftswoman reflects the comfort she has not only with her practice, but with the work that she chooses to do.

“I did a lot of traditional ‘woman’s work.’ I felt like it was a struggle for me – I didn’t want to feel like all I had to offer the world was taking care of babies and a house and doing my little crafts on the side. I got wrapped up in it and didn’t feel like I had much to offer.”

Now that her boys are grown and “turning into amazing men” she sees the value in her work in their lives and how fulfilling it has been to pursue the things she truly enjoys.

After feeling discomfort with trying to fit herself into slots or roles, Wesley is just happy to be creating in a way that feels authentic to who she is. Regardless of how you would label her show, the year’s work of this talented, skilled, dynamic woman are certainly bits and pieces worth devouring.