Art chose Melanie Poole when she was just 6 years old.
The relationship that began with a portrait of Melanie’s mother that the little girl drew for Mother’s Day has morphed through commercial art to her current avocation, the creation of Steampunk jewelry and hats.
That portrait of Mary Ellen Poole was exhibited in the Decatur Parisian’s display window, “and people recognized her just from the picture,” Melanie says. Naturally, when Melanie was congratulated on the likeness by Decaturans, many added the encouraging: “You will be an artist when you grow up.”
Melanie took the encouragement to heart, and her family made a shopping trip to the art supply store a regular part of her birthday celebration.
“I was very shy when I was growing up,” Melanie says, so the thought of college—all those strangers, both students and professors—was intimidating. She was still awed by the prospect when Austin High School held a college fair for Melanie’s class.
“Billy Cannon was recruiter for the University of Montevallo,” she recalls, and Cannon made an immediate connection with the quiet girl with an outsized art talent.
“He got (then-chairman of the UM Art Department) Frank McCoy on the line to talk to me,” she recalls. McCoy persuaded her that she would feel welcome at UM. A bonus was that her status as class salutatorian qualified her for a scholarship.
“Montevallo let me be a big fish in a little bitty pond,” Melanie says. She also got an excellent piece of advice from the Class of 1941’s Bettina Pearson Higdon Burns: “She told me: ‘Go to everything you are invited to.’ And I did!”
At UM Melanie majored in commercial art—her logic cannot be disputed: even artists have to eat and keep a roof over their heads.
Today, from Melanie’s “day job” as marketing and communications director for The American Village to her Steampunk art is a lot like the time travel so dear to the geeky hearts of sci-fi fans.
That is pretty appropriate because Melanie comes home each day from a faux Colonial village to a tastefully designed and decorated thoroughly modern home where Melanie’s work room upstairs gives one the sensation of having stepped into yet another time.
Hat blanks parade above the window. On the floor are five-gallon buckets filled with turkey feathers and antlers. Tools not normally associated with art await Melanie’s hands: a dremel (to drill holes in stones), a soldering iron, an embossing tool, a glue gun . . .
Shelves hold plastic bags of various types of stones, such as pale blue kyanite from Brazil, smokey quartz and labradorite. The latter might make you think of a watchful cat in a dim room, eyes softly glowing with huge pupils. Then there is chrome diopside—clear and green—and, oh, luscious deep red garnet. Or, perhaps the larimar strikes your fancy—it is a stone found only in the Dominican Republic in blues ranging from nearly white to the color of the deepest sea. In one of its most popular hues it often is mistaken for turquoise.
There are racks of ribbons and laces, lengths of leather, plus more plastic bags with disassembled pocket watches. Time travel, indeed . . . The gears and faces from the watches might join jewels and ribbons as trim on a tall-crowned felt hat, or they may become parts of a glamorous brooch.
The most delicate among them could end up adorning a “fascinator,” one of the tiny hats the artist creates to compliment the Victorian attire of Steampunk ladies. Usually worn on the side of an upswept coiffure, they truly are fascinating.
Other bags hold the sorted results of Melanie’s having disassembled costume jewelry she buys at thrift stores.
This all comes together (to the amazement of the unartistic spectator) in something like the dark high-crowned derby hat, its wide band a small, subtle plaid. Around the band, resting on the brim, sit copper goggles (one of Steampunk’s basic ingredients), while a few jaunty turkey feathers and a watch face complete the look.
Steampunk, Melanie explains, is . . . “well, imagine that Jules Verne and Queen Victoria had a child.”
Check out Melanie’s creations on Facebook at Steampunk Butterfly. Or, better yet, visit her in person at Montevallo Art Fest in Orr Park April 21; Panoply in Big Springs Park, Huntsville, April 27-29; Art in the Hills, Vestavia Hills, May 5; Art in the Park, Foley, May 12-13; or Arts Alive, Florence, May 19-20.