Melissa Cole — Artist, Writer, Traveler, RPCV (Dominican Republic)

Cole was born in Oregon and raised in London, Hong Kong, and India. She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Zoology. She has spent time working in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic (1990-92) in environmental education, as a dive guide in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and as a naturalist guide in Baja, Mexico. She has written over 30 children’s natural history books, and travels with her husband Brandon, who is a wildlife photographer specializing in marine life.

It is from these amazing encounters that she derives much of her inspiration for her vividly colored, heavily textured and patterned paintings and mosaic sculptures. Drawing from her background in science, Cole creates vibrant examinations and celebrations of nature with glittering accents of glass and other mixed media.

Melissa writes . . .

Over the last fifteen years I’ve been delighted to discover that with the most mundane ingredients — acrylic, canvas, concrete, glass, metal, clay and wood — I can form something that seemingly vibrates with its own raw energy. I relish the moments when my artwork makes people stop their mad hurtle through life to pause, breathe and enjoy an experience. Because of my past adventures as a naturalist guide and my marriage to a marine photographer, I’ve been lucky enough to snorkel with salmon, stroke baby gray whales and swim with tiger sharks. It is from these amazing encounters that I derive much of the inspiration for my vividly colored, textured and patterned mixed media paintings and mosaic sculptures. I am also influenced by a childhood spent in India, extensive travels abroad, and by my background in zoology.

Unfortunately, in my travels I have also witnessed the rapid destruction of the environment. Because of this, I feel it is incredibly important to bring touches of the natural realm to urban settings. These serve as reminders to people within a glass and concrete landscape, and help them reconnect with nature.

Although I could portray the some-times stark reality of environmental degradation, I would like my artwork to be an escape for both viewer and artist. While rivers are dammed, oceans are often polluted, and plastic blows through deserts, in my paintings fish glide through clear water and rabbits leap unspoiled territory. My artworks are dreams, which are filled with emotion, desire, energy and joy. They are a touch of what I wish for this earth.

Working in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer after I completed my science degree shaped my artistic career. I was fortunate enough to work in a village of artisans, and basket weavers. This experience of creating artwork within a community showed me what a powerful force art has on people. It breaks down cross-cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic barriers. Whenever possible, I use this knowledge in my large installations and public works. I am passionate about involving the public in the art process through my community-built public works of art, which instill a sense of pride and ownership. I thrive on demystifying art and in watching people of all ages and experiences find the confidence within themselves to create and share their life stories with others.


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