Meet Melinda Shea
The architect-turned-artist creates collages on glass.
Melinda Shea grew up in Colorado, studied piano, became an architect and relocated with her architect husband to California, where she designed award-winning corporate interiors for financial services and entertainment industries. She also served for several years as president of the Pasadena Symphony and Pops orchestras. Brought east by a design job with a hedge fund, the family moved into a glass house in the woods of Connecticut. “I love being here,” Shea says. “The rural setting is the opposite of Southern California, and it’s a train ride from the museums, theaters and galleries of New York City.” With two grown children, Shea resumed pursuing her interests in music, fine arts, photography and gardening, and also discovered a passion for collage on glass. She has devised a unique method of arranging images on the glass, creating one-of-a-kind pieces that are prized by purchasers and collectors.
How did you first become intrigued by color and texture?
When I used to stay with my grandmother, I loved looking through her jewelry boxes. The sparkles, colors and textures of the gems and rhinestones, and how the details fit together. I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful intricate details—how they assemble to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Jewelry is primal for me.
At first you designed jewelry. What led you to collage?
I started taking photographs, and I’ve always loved art books. That led me to digital programs like Photoshop and learning all the amazing things you can do to digitally manipulate images. I started playing with parts of pieces, enhancing colors, changing image sizes and textures, manipulating a perspective. It opened a whole new world to me.
So you aren’t cutting up art books?
No, you take a hard copy and do different things with it, then cut out the images with scissors and razor blades and combine them into different compositions. I’ve graduated to playing with different paper, printer ink, gold and silver leaf, researching glues, increasing the vocabulary for creating the collage works.
What drew you to glass as a medium?
I started doing plates and loved the way you could view the imagery through the glass, which then offers the opportunity to turn it over and work backwards creating a three-dimensional story. The images closest to you must go onto the glass first, then you turn it over and think backward. You think how the story is fitting together from back to front.
How do they tell a story?
How the parts and pieces fit together is very intimate. Every time you look you might see a different rendition.
Why do you say glass is an unforgiving medium?
It has taken a lot of practice and experimentation to find methods to avoid bubbles and tearing. And each different vessel shape—plate, vase, bell jar—is more complex, making you think how it is going to morph the actual image. You’re working in multiple dimensions at the same time.
What is the purpose of up to 30 coats of waterproof varnish?
You see the image through that glossy finish, and it gives the impression it is encased in glass.
You work up to eight hours a day and a single piece may take weeks to finish. After all that effort, why do you sell them?
It’s hard to part with them, like a child leaving the nest. But if someone truly loves and appreciates the piece, it’s also truly gratifying.
What is the appeal of time-consuming crafts in this modern era?
We’re all so focused on digital media—our omnipresent virtual screens—computer, phone, iPad. People are drawn to feel an object created by a human being, by somebody’s hand, to study its details, feel its texture. It is very different from machine made and mass produced.
What’s the appropriate décor for your collages?
Philosophically, I think my pieces could fit into any décor; they are unto themselves. I’ve never been a proponent that art should match the décor. Rather I think the piece should speak to you. It should be the accent in a place.
Who is a celebrity you would like to design a piece for?
Joni Mitchell is my idol. I love her imagery, poetry, the complex and beautiful melodies. She is a printer, a poet, a Renaissance person. I thought about that specifically when I was creating my last piece.