Coming Together

Posted by on Jul 8, 2011 | 3 Comments

Floating around the room, dressed in white linen, her red curls a striking contrast to the layers of turquoise, jade and green crystal beads that encircle her neck and dangle from her ears.  She slices pieces from two birthday cakes, after being serenaded by a gallery full of friends, new and old.  Melodee, a masseuse and administrator for a healing arts education center, is in town visiting one of her best friends, who also happens to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence, Shelby Keefe.  Originally from Milwaukee, Melodee moved to Tucson four years ago to pursue a new life with her “beloved.”  Everything about her is light and airy, yet warm and bright.  Her hands gesture with careful deliberation, and everyone gravitates towards her when she laughs.

People like this tend to be a magnet for creative people, and the circles of artistic creativity have certainly overlapped tonight.  For example, one of Melodee’s friends, the evening’s self-appointed photographer, Sandy, decided to invite another artist friend to tonight’s celebration in the Pfister’s artist-in-residence studio.  What Sandy didn’t know was that this young artist was also already friends with Shelby, the evening’s hostess!

Tia and I sat in one of the high-backed wrought iron chairs with their animal print cushions, eating cake and talking about art.  A former student of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Tia was always a “drawer” but her dad, a painter and visual engineer, took her on as a student and encouraged, mentored, and inspired her, to become a more versatile artist.  Though his creativity comes out in his engineering work, he most “lives vicariously” through her, she says.  Her work, as she went on to college and participated in more art shows and honed her craft, is expressed in a variety of mediums: oils and acrylics, colored pencil, watercolors, even wearable art (though she primarily creates her jewelry for herself, not for sale).  While not her favorite medium, Tia really likes an interesting technique known as “gouache.”  She describes it as being workable and good for layering, like watercolor, but more substantive, like acrylics.

Drawn to the impressionists, Tia’s art displays a flair for magical realism combined with a strong nod to her ancestral background as a young African American woman. Her website features some incredibly moving portraits of black women in native dress, tribal patterns and color, together in dance, or celebrating children and family.  There are some more impressionistic-inspired watercolors where the men and women in them are nearly in silhouette, but bathed in, and surrounded by, so much color.  There are works that lend an air of “magical realism,” like the one where a woman’s streaming hair is adorned in flowers, pearls, and then the sun and moon.  After the ones of African women bonding together, my favorites are a set of commissioned works that depict jazz artists and blues jams – you can practically hear the scatting, bass-thumping, and complementary audience murmur.  I want to be inside these pieces.

As we talked at Melodee’s party about art in the community, Tia told me about the teaching she does in classrooms, after-school programs and Boys & Girls Clubs.  As part of her art classes and talks, she incorporates “talking circles” to help her connect to the kids, and for the kids to learn how to better connect to themselves and each other.  Tia says she doesn’t see a line between her artist self and her everyday self, and wants to help others be their authentic selves, too.  Seeing her work makes it clear how actively true this principle is for her, as her art celebrates circles, connection, a “coming together” of friends and family.  The peaceful joy that radiates from her person is the same joy that comes alive in her paintings and drawings – a joy expressed in movement, song and radiant, brilliant colors!

Who knows, perhaps Tia will apply for the next Artist-in-Residence year and you will get a chance to see her vibrantly joyous, inspiring work as it develops and grows.  I know Shelby’s encouraging her to throw her paintbrush in the ring, so to speak.

In the meantime, you can view Tia Richardson’s artwork online or, at least through July 11, on display at the Unitarian Universalist Church West’s Community Room Gallery as part of their current show, “A Celebration of African American Art.”

  • melodee stumpf

    Hi stacie
    love your blog! was so good to meet you and will look forward to next time. hope you saw some of my historic pfister photos and downtown milwaukee shots.
    I miss milwaukee and shelby already and just got home today.
    It was a wonderful vacation.
    be well stacie,

    In joy,

  • Sandy Schroeder Brietzman

    Stacie – What a wonderful surprise to read your blog of our gathering to Welcome Home Melodee ! In Shelby’s amazing and art filled studio in the Beautiful and Historic Pfister !
    Actuallly I invited Tia, as I saw she was friends with Shelby, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting as yet. Melodee often spoke of Shelby and Susan. It surely is a small world.
    It was a pleasure to meet you and learn of your selection and role as the Pfister’s storyteller. What a great opportunity for us and other’s to learn first hand the stories that are revealed there.
    Melodee and I had the fortune to enjoy John Marshall High School as students, and through Face Book our lives paths came together again.
    Thank you again for sharing your time with us and writing so well of our special gathering at the Pfister Hotel, our favorite place to be.
    I too hope Tia Richardson has an opportunity to be the next Artist-In-Residence ! She is Milwaukee born and raised, and has an amaiing insight with her inspirational art and unique style. I’ve known Tia for over 14 years. She has many gifts to share ~
    It indeed was a joy for us to gather, and “come together” to share some special time.
    Thank you again ~
    Love & Light,
    Sandy Schroeder-Brietzman

  • It was a pleasure to meet both of you, as well!

    Shelby is quite lucky to be surrounded by such inspiring, brightly talented friends from so many walks of life. The Pfister is lucky to have such wonderful people celebrating art and friendship under its roof, and I’m lucky I get to be a part of it, too. Thank you!


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