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Laid back yet determined. An eye for the unseen. Melissa creates art out of the every day beauty around us. A mom who found herself after raising her family. I had a great time at Melissa’s house on Stump Lake. The fortune of nature was with us as the lake was calm and peaceful that day and the wildlife made an appearance. Getting to watch a simple picture turn into a piece of artwork was inspiring.
Can I introduce you to Melissa?
I was not born or raised here in the literal sense. I found Bemidji in 2006 and knew the moment I stepped off the plane that this was HOME.
My journey began the summer of 2006 in Owosso, Michigan where I lived for ten years with my husband and six children. Don’t be too impressed, I didn’t give birth to them all, we are a meshed family, but a family all the same and I love them all as if they were my own. Most of our family vacations were long weekends to the upper peninsula of Michigan. The only place I found solace. My heart was heavy on the trip back and my husband and I fantasized about moving to the U.P. buying a tiny cabin on a lake surrounded by forest. It was not practical and selfish for us to consider uprooting our children from the only home they could remember, so we patiently waited. The summer of 2006 marked the milestone of all children graduating from high school. It was time – our time! I was on the search for a job in the north, what I thought would be the U.P. of Michigan.
Fortunately a fairy godmother found me, and of course as fairy godmothers are, much wiser than I am, took pity upon me, and paved the way for my journey home. I had three job offers in northern Minnesota and no prospects in the U.P. My husband and I decided why not investigate. The first company did not offer enough salary so I turned it down. The second offer was from Arctic Cat. Thief River just did not feel like home. The third offer from a company not far from Bemidji seemed just right. (I know – too Goldilocks – sorry) I flew into Bemidji airport for my interview and immediately sighed and said…..HOME! I rushed to the interview, accepted their offer, rushed back home to tell my husband that I have found our paradise. Much more beautiful than what we imagined. Two weeks later I was in a manic dash to pack and start my first day of work. In keeping with my Goldilocks theme, there was a bear involved (or if you choose a Big Bad Wolf both villains are appropriate) and just over a year after my first day I left the company. Once again my fairy godmother stepped in. This, like other fairy tales has a touch of irony. The company that offered me a job when I thought no one ever would (long story and too negative to elaborate) happened to be the first offer I turned down, Nortech Systems. Forgive me for not noticing what this company had to offer, I had yet to learn that what seems like a frog is truly a prince! (Yes again with the fairy tale theme!)
The past three and half years in this little piece of heaven have been the most inspiring time of my life. I have grown as an artist, mother, wife and person. I am no longer that tightly wound woman that was ready to stress out about any issue, frazzled to the point where getting out of bed took all the energy I could muster. I turned from a puppet to a real girl! (Yes now a Pinocchio theme) Life here in Bemidji has taught me to slow down, take in the magnificent landscape and wildlife, breathe in all the beauty and diversity that Bemidji and life has to offer. So, in essence, I was RE-BORN and raised in Bemidji.
My artistic outlet has been landscape and wildlife photography. I was only inspired to take photos when I was in the Upper Peninsula, which was only one maybe two times a year for long weekends. Now I find it hard not to photograph, document, and share the beauty that envelops me, much of it in my backyard on Stump Lake. Yes I got my cabin on a lake surrounded by forest! Hmmmm… I love drinking my coffee on my deck at sunrise listening to the loons, chickadees and that friendly call of the Phoebe – PHEEBEEE, PHEEBEE. The various woodpeckers lend their percussions on the pines and a determined little sapsucker has taken up the cymbals by drumming on the metal around my chimney all the while the wind whispers through the pines. I am hypnotized into complete bliss. And NO, this is not in cartoon format with the birds landing on my shoulder and I am singing back at them this is no fairy tale – it is my fantastic life! I can’t image life could be more incredible.
I suppose you wonder if I miss my children. Well they never gave me the chance. Five out of six of my kids have moved to Bemidji, or very close to Bemidji. They love the area just as much as my husband and I do. What can I say; they inherited their good taste from me!
I have just recently found a new fairy godmother that has encouraged, supported and help make my dream of sharing my art with the world come to fruition. Christina Thorne at Bad Cat Creations is kindly showcasing my photography. It is not the average photograph. I create kaleidoscopes from my photos. It is my interpretation of the wonders of nature. I have been on a marathon of creativity and Bemidji is my muse!
Bad Cat Creations
Coffee with sugar, a particular routine, a pack of cats, confident, all on her own terms… She is never shy with her smiles and I found her easy to talk to. She doesn’t want you to get the wrong impression- she isn’t soft she may even be gritty- tattoos, dark edgy hair, and a dress style you can’t just buy off the rack. However, I saw a soft side too (look at the picture of her holding her cat), she is kind and seemed loyal and honest. Fun, quirky, a robust true laugh… things I took with me after meeting Christina.
May I introduce you to Christina:
I was born in 1981 in Copenhagen, Denmark to an Icelandic Mother and a Minnesotan Father. I spent my first few years of life in the tiny farming town of Ogilvie, MN and moved with my widowed Mother to Bemidji around the age of 3. My Mom eventually remarried to a hot-rod mechanic and we moved to the outskirts of Bemidji to an old two story log home built in the 1930’s by my Dad’s maternal grandparents. We had no next door neighbors and I had no siblings, often feeling alone and stranded in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest, my imagination took hold.
As a child I would wonder through the woods surrounding our house, often playing a story or a character in my head, with my trusty yellow lab, Susie, by my side. Some days I was a princess, captured by an evil queen, some days I was a pirate on a treasure hunt for lost gold (which happened to be my play jewelry I would ask my Mom to hide and then diagram a map for me to follow). I picked flowers for my family, collected rocks for my collection, and danced within fairy rings. My Mom embraced art in our lives, and we were always trying new creative avenues. I loved playing with paints, stringing beads and listening to music (of all genres). All in all, a creative and fun childhood.
Growing older, I began to resent being stuck in the woods, far from friends and things to do. We did at times live in town in a home we owned, but always ended up heading back out to our home in the woods for freedom and the stillness. As years went by and I became a teenager my need to leave grew more and more. I couldn’t wait to get out and live my life, discover who I was as I often felt stifled here.
When I was 20, I packed my bags and left for Minneapolis, I was never coming back.
While living in Minneapolis, wanting to find who I was, I realized I had always known who I was. What I was missing was my voice.
Art had always been a coveted dream in my mind, something I loved and had been striving for. I wanted to be an Artist. I told myself time and time again I would never be an Artist because I couldn’t draw or paint the things I saw in my head. It would break my heart over and over. While working at a shop in Minneapolis that sold jewelry making supplies, I pursued jewelry techniques as I had enjoyed making rather primitive jewelry as a child. It all seemed to come so naturally to me. I would spend all day working at the store, building ideas for jewelry in my mind, to get home late at night and pull together the small jewelry kit I had assembled for myself and work and re-work old jewelry. One night, inspired by pendants that were given to me by a customer at my job that day, I got up in the middle of the night with an idea of what should be done with those pendants. I was too afraid to lose the idea in my sleep. After a couple hours of stranding and link working I held up my finished necklace and said ‘YES! This is exactly how I saw it in my head!” That would later come to be my first “Aha moment”. I realized that maybe I couldn’t draw or paint the images in my head, but I had found MY medium for creation and my voice as an Artist.
It was soon after that, when my jewelry box was over flowing, as well as my friend’s and family’s, that I decided it was time to take it to the next level and start my business. Bad Cat Creations was born in 2002.
After 3 years in Minneapolis, I grew weary of the constant stream of noise and distractions. I missed the sounds of loons and crickets at night, having never become accustom to the sirens and noise of the city. The end of that last year could not come soon enough. I bought my home (a small mobile home) and moved it out onto my family’s property. Still unsure of where I wanted my life to go, after a year I closed up the house and headed to Pennsylvania to get a degree in special effects make-up. I don’t know if getting that degree and moving to Hollywood was ever a real goal in my mind, but at the end of my schooling, just about to graduate I realized it was not the industry for me. So, still not wanting to “go home” I headed to Arizona and started working for the Renaissance Festival, looking for new experiences and travel. Those first few months of life in the Southwest left me feeling unhappy and a little lost. When in conversation with one of my closest friends, she asked “if special effects doesn’t make you happy, then what does make you happy?” Without hesitation I said “I love doing my jewelry designs!” This was my second “Aha moment”.
With new determination, as well as wanting to be close to my family, I returned to Bemidji for the final time and began the journey to fulfill my dream.
I began to see Bemidji with new eyes and a new place of promise. Feeling secure and free in my little home in the woods, taking in all the beauty around me in my own yard that I seemed to have missed before, I pushed myself to pull inspiration from all my experiences and travels. Pursing art festival after art festival, toting my wears, telling my story and meeting fellow artisans and new artists looking for advice on how to “get started” selling goods, a brainstorm started brewing.
Having always had the dream to own my own store, I decided I would not waste anymore time simply dreaming of it. I would make it happen. I had decided I would not only follow my dreams, but I would chase them down and make them my reality! And if I could help other artists along the way, and bring new and different products to my community- I would do it, and do it with a smile.
I often joke that opening my shop was purely a selfish dream, I wanted a fun little boutique like the ones I loved in Minneapolis and other places in my travels, and if no one else was going to do it, then I would! But in actuality, I wanted to fully embrace my community and help it grow into the artist community it is blossoming into. I began to meet wonderful people, and find new love of old places I had once never given a second glance too. I love that I can walk through my downtown area and encounter friendly strangers and smiling friends. I love the strong sense of community, and the feeling that if we can be a strong community, then we too, as individuals, are strong.
I have some serious pride of my town Bemidji. It is a fun, warm, loving, and creative community. I often wonder how I didn’t see these things before, but I don’t spend too many precious moments thinking of the past, wanting to savor every moment enjoying the present and dreaming of the future.
Somewhere between roller derby practice, judging performances for a music scholarship, child’s theater practice, classes, workshops, and meetings, Cate whittled out a bit of time for me. I met Cate for the first time at The Wild Rose Theater in downtown Bemidji. Trying to keep up with Ms. Belleveau and snap pictures at the same time was, to say the least, a challenge. One can not help but feel her constantly creating, it seems to be second nature for her. A buzz of activity and energy Cate’s spirit fills a room.
An athletic 8th grader traveling with her Wisconsin based family on a trip around Lake Superior and its environs was told “ Haul out everyone we need a break and this grassy lake front seems perfect!”
Six kids were stuffed in a baby blue Ford station wagon and welcomed rolling down the grassy hills that came to a pleasant stop at the shores of Lake Bemidji. After picnicking on that sunny August day and doing the “Cheese Smile” at the statues of Paul & Babe , we continued on to Lake Itasca. That would be a must-see if one was visiting northern Minnesota. Now, who would have ever in their wildest imaginings have guessed that this little basketball jock young woman could have waved a good bye kiss to Bemidji.
“ Hey, I will be back in 9 years and eventually make you my home … I will fall in love with a man who was living like Thoreau. I will open a woman’s theater collective in that old brick building across from where I rolled down the hill giggling with my siblings . I will work hard with my husband to put public art on the streets. I will strive to keep small town Bemidji alive in a way that only the arts can imbue to a sense of place . I will direct a Shakespeare Fest on your shore lines. During a production of Pippi Longstocking, pirates will come by boat in a kids’ show in the warm August sun. The same sun I remembered from when I ate sandwiches with family way back when. I will play opposite the mayor of this fair city in a theatrical show about ice fishing right on the lake in January. I will even race across glittering waters with an all female team for the Dragon Boat Festival .”
I love Bemidji for the arts community , the natural world , the “small time feel like I know people” ethos , and the sense of humor about itself .
Where else could we have raised our children who have moved to large cities ( DC, NYC, Montreal ) who now have memories of the screaming man coming up the driveway yelling “AAAAAAAL”. That would turn out to be three baby bear cubs wailing at 4:00 AM in the birch tree out front of the house . We have stopped in our tracks and listened to gray wolves howl which sent the hair vertical on our arms .
There is the kayaking on lakes where no one lives , the skiing by open water in Three Island Park, and snowshoeing on our own 120 acres of mixed woods, swamps and beaver ponds . There are the morel mushrooms, Springtime maple syrup, gardening all summer, mosquitoes, wood ticks, wood heat all winter long , sunsets, and aurora borealis.
This area has given me the joy of being publicly hugged by dozens of Native American children I have served on the Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian Reservations as I walk through Target and they spot me .
I am a gypsy always wanting to move on, move on and have traveled to Japan, Germany, 50 states and Canada, New Zealand, Nepal , Britain, France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Italy, Greece. I always want to explore more, learn more, understand more and yet I always return home to Bemidji.
My ashes will be scattered in my spiritual home, Heaven’s Peak in Glacier National Park, but what a blessing Bemidji has been. For now – home, in the best sense …
Home is love ,
self- actualization as an artist,
aesthetic beauty and