Closeup: Rachel Melis

by Rootstalk

  • Closeup
decorative header image from Volume III Issue 1 · Fall 2016

As a descendent of nineteenth-century prairie homesteaders, Melis makes work that concerns aspects of the prairie region which she feels many, including her ancestors, have overlooked. She strives with her work to record, re-imagine, re-image and re-print the vitality, diversity and importance of the Midwest’s native plants, ecosystems, and peoples. Her work also celebrates writers from the nineteenth-century and today who have observed closely the complexities of Midwestern and rural life. Currently, Melis is creating images about bird, plant, and food metaphors used by and about women and children.

Though she does produce art in traditional two-dimensional forms such as paintings, pastels, and prints, most of Melis’s pieces borrow from the tradition of printed books, artists’ books, and books-as-installations. She has shared a sampling with Rootstalk for this issue; if you want to see more of her work you’ll find it at her website. Rootstalk leaf-bug icon marking the end of the article's text.

About Artist Rachel Melis
Portrait image of artist Rachel Melis.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Melis
Rachel Melis is an Associate Professor of Art at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s Universityin central Minnesota. She received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and received her BA from Grinnell College in 2001. Grinnell’s Center for Prairie Studies—which started in 1999, during her time as a student at Grinnell—has had a great impact on her work. Melis says the art she has produced since her undergraduate days has been influenced by what she learned about prairie art and ecology from professors including Jon Andelson, Mark Baechtel, Jackie Brown, Tony Crowley (former Grinnell Art Professor), and her fellow-students in Grinnell’s Environmental Action Group. Melis has lived in three prairie states since Iowa—Wisconsin, Kansas, and Minnesota—and says that in each one, she has found inspiration from the land and people around her for her artists’ books, prints and installations.