Tucked away inside Melissa Fox’s cedar chest is a fabric wall hanging featuring a large golden sun appliquéd onto a heavenly blue velvet background. Now the quilted hanging keeps company with Paddington Bear and Ernie dolls, but it once decorated the wall of her children’s room. Tiny celestial bodies floating beyond the sun’s curling rays were created with paint and drops of bleach, recalls Fox. “I’m the only one who knows what is on the back,” continues the maker, pointing out the hanging’s silvery reverse side.
Fox has been making things with fabric for much of her life. Her skill as a seamstress, fine arts training and love of detail are evident in all of her creations. “I started sewing with a machine at age 12, when my mother sent me to a summer class at a local Singer store, though I remember sewing doll clothes by hand and helping my grandmother on her treadle sewing machine before that,” recounts Fox.
At the Rochester Institute of Technology, she majored in illustration, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for art education. With her husband John, an accomplished photographer and furniture maker, she moved to Canandaigua in 1977 when he received a teaching appointment at Finger Lakes Community College.
In 2008 Fox’s Klimt Dream, inspired by Gustav Klimt, the early 20th century Art Nouveau painter, was part of a fabric art show at the Ontario County Arts Council. “I love Klimt,” admits Fox, flipping through a book of his paintings which influenced her art quilt. In the center of her large art fabric hanging, her daughter Jessica is shown asleep, her prone form defined by an appliquéd white muslin nightgown, its voluminous folds accented by tiny hand sewn beads. The background fabrics form a rich multi-colored landscape. More beads and painted highlights create an endless array of patterns, like those of the paintings of the Viennese artist she admires.
“I’m drawn to fabric because it has such potential,” says Fox. “You begin with a two-dimensional pattern, but you can manipulate fabric in so many ways – draping, shaping, painting, embellishing,” explains the artist. “You’re limited only by your imagination. There’s something about a ‘handmade’ object that’s very appealing to me, and fabric is such a part of that.”
Everyday objects in Fox’s hands become beautiful and functional. The mother of four has made quilts with traditional patterns and uses quilted elements in placemats, tea cozies and other linens for the home. Tiny bits of fabric, ribbons and embroidery accent her jewelry, trinket boxes, ornaments and other one-of-a-kind creations which she sold for a time in a local shop. When she was education director for six years at the Granger Homestead, Fox made crazy quilt Christmas stockings for their Festival of Trees silent auction.“They were a fun challenge I gave myself, starting with a single color.”
Fox says her work is all over the U.S. and one quilt is in Japan, although none are currently on public display. They have all been made specifically for their owners. To contact Fox, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Laurel C. Wemett