ARTIST’S TOUCH

Written By: Josh Gray | Photography By: Brian Sager

Melissa MacLeod re-emerges on Nantucket’s Abstract Art Scene.

Melissa MacLeod has always loved to work with her hands. The daughter of an accomplished painter with generations of artistic discipline woven into her DNA, she remembers the hours she spent painting and sculpting as a young girl, watching her mother work and admiring the paintings made by her ancestors that lined the walls of her childhood home.

MacLeod’s mother, Rowena Hambly, was a painter who showed her work on Nantucket for many years. Her grandfather, Edgar Hambly’s, paintings adorn the walls of the Smithsonian and those of collectors around the globe. And her distant grandfather, Sir Joshua Reynolds, founded the world-renowned Royal Academy of Arts in London. Some of their works hang in the bright, tucked-away Sconset home where MacLeod has been sculpting a new chapter in her own history as an artist.

This lineage, and the constant desire to create, has led MacLeod to a resurgence and renewed focus on her artistic career, which she juggled for many years with the duties of motherhood. She also moved around a great deal due to her husband John’s demanding acting commitments. But with her children getting older, MacLeod has refocused her artistic energies into sculpting, and that fire has attracted the notice of Nantucket’s Samuel Owen Gallery.

“I saw she makes beautiful, contemporary art that really feels like the island,” says Lee Milazzo, who owns the Samuel Owen Gallery with his wife Cindy. “As with our other Nantucket artists, her work has that feel without shoving it down your throat. We had been searching for work with a little more texture to compliment the existing pieces in the gallery, and she was really just what we were looking for.”

Milazzo allows his buyers at the Samuel Owen Gallery to interpret MacLeod’s pieces themselves. Some see nautical themes, while others may see a study in light, texture or form. “It’s really enjoyable to watch people discover and appreciate her work,” says Milazzo. And appreciate they have. Most of MacLeod’s collection sold out last year. Her work will be displayed at Samuel Owen throughout the season in a show that is yet to be announced.

Macleod’s journey to selling out shows at the Samuel Owen Gallery has hardly been linear. She began art school in her teens, but her adventurous spirit made it hard to stay in the confines of a classroom. She ended up dropping out to travel, which led her to Nantucket in 1986 aboard a double-masted schooner that she spent two and-a-half years restoring with her boyfriend at the time and his father. But when the schooner pulled anchor to move on to the next port, the allure of Nantucket proved too strong to leave and MacLeod stayed behind to begin a new adventure.

She painted houses to earn money and discovered a community of artists on the island who captured her imagination and inspired her creativity. Not too long thereafter, MacLeod co-founded the well-known X Gallery on Orange Street where she showed her representational and abstract art for a decade. While running the X Gallery, MacLeod finished art school, earning a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the Montserrat College of Art just north of Boston.

For many years, her artistic direction was pulled toward representational and still life pieces. She often painted still lifes of simple bowls, focusing on the lines and how the light created shadows. And then at some point, in a moment she can’t quite recall, she found herself pulled toward something different. Sculpture became her muse, but the themes from her previous work remained constant. She began sculpting with Hydrocal Gypsum Cement, a highly textured and naturally bright white material that is often used by Jeff Koons. MacLeod labored for hours, sometimes days, on the curves of her pieces, shaping and shaping until they were just right.

MacLeod says there’s a lot more to explore, and her creativity within the medium is still abundant. When mounted on the walls of a home or in the gallery, the time of day affects the perception of her art, as shadows move and light bursts and fades. “It’s really amazing,” says MacLeod’s husband, John Shea. “Her work takes on new dimensions constantly, and of course I’m inspired by the bravery she has to survive on this island as an artist, to commit herself to this profession with no guarantee of anything. She puts it out there on the gallery walls and you hope against hope that people respond to this thing she was born to do.”

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