Walking into Meshell Melvin’s house I am instantly at home. There are pet greeters, delicious smells, and my jacket falls naturally on the couch. With the lovely addition of artful fish hanging from the ceiling, I have the sense of entering a menagerie and I love it.
The woodstove is going strong and it’s very cozy. I notice a reoccurring dragon/monster theme in the décor and ask Meshell about it. She tells me this is her default image. I totally relate to this because mine is a dinosaur.
We ponder the age-old question: what came first, the dragon or the dinosaur?
Meshell is currently working on a commissioned piece of art for Lotteries Yukon. As we chat, she cuts and irons, placing and replacing fabrics of all shapes, sizes, and colours. She describes making art as her “physical compulsion”, and I witness this in the comfort of her studio.
One of the first things Meshell tells me is that she remembers meeting my mom at the laundromat in Atlin back in the mid-nineties. The degrees of separation in the North are miniscule. Meshell and her boys lived in Atlin from 1992 to 2002. It was there that she taught herself machine embroidering and started working with textiles, using clothing and bits of material she found at church sales. After a while, people started to leave bags of material right on her doorstep; she describes the sense of community there as “beautiful”.
While living in Atlin, Meshell also cultivated a community here in Whitehorse. Her first exhibit of drawings was displayed at the Blackstone Café (I miss that place). The show was titled Coffee Beans and Latte Machines: Embroidering the Lines of the Blackstone. One of these drawings was of my brother Codey, who worked there at the time.
We try to figure out when and where we met each other, but can’t put a finger on it. We think it was in Dawson City at the Riverside Arts Festival the year that Aylie Sparkes and Dave Haddock played the artists’ after-party. That weekend, I got my portrait drawn by Meshell on the dyke and was entranced by her ability to create something so lovely and detailed in such a small amount of time, using only her universal movement machine.
Do you remember where you met Meshell Melvin?
I ask Meshell for a quote she fancies. She hits me with Sufism: “Trust in god, but tie your camel first.” I’ve always liked this bit of wisdom — don’t rely on faith alone. As a side note, there is an excellent Bill Ding album by the same name you should check out if you can find it.
To this writer, Meshell is world-famous-in-the-Yukon not only for teaching and creating art but also for this: when I see her, I am compelled to give her a hug. Since the dance floor was removed from the Gold Rush, we don’t see each other as often, but when I do see her it’s as if no time has passed; her gigantic heart just keeps shining on.
Something you may not know about Meshell Melvin is that her second language was Latin.