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“The glorious beauty of Melissa Small”

Audrey Hua ‘26

Jan 19, 2024

Still-life oil painter Melissa Small’s art is currently displayed in Mercersburg Academy’s Burgin Center for the Arts.  An Awakening is showing in the Cofrin Gallery while the other collection, Layers of Vanity, occupies the corner gallery.

Small's passion for art began in high school where a painting class opened a door to her future career. “I remember telling my painting teacher, Mrs. DeMartin, that I wanted to be an art teacher like her,” Small said. “She told me, 'No, go all the way,' implying that I should just be an artist. I feel lucky to be able to do both.” Aside from painting, Small teaches high school students full-time.

“Creating art allows me to share things visually that cannot be translated into words,” Small said. Inspired by the gratification that painting brings her, and the joy she brings to collectors, Small shares this with her three daughters, teaching them what it means to be passionate about something. “They see me painting and understand that this is work for me, but work that I truly love,” said Small.

The opportunity to exhibit at Mercersburg Academy came through a social media post that caught the attention of Small’s former schoolmate and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Mercersburg, Renata Williams. Although daunted at first by the transportation and taking care of her youngest child, Small ultimately felt the experience of displaying at Mercersburg merited the journey from Beacon, NY. 

Sydney Caretti, Director of Galleries, shared her choices in choosing Small beyond the connection with a current faculty member. “I am especially taken by the manner in which she includes the viewer in her work,” Caretti said. “While these realized botanical renderings could be only about the flora, Small includes a sense of space with a dedicated light source creating a shadow and also a hand, her or another's, holding the stem.”

Small enjoys painting, and even more, the process of setting up her still life. “Choosing objects and arranging them physically is an art in itself,” she said. Occasionally, Small includes writing in her artwork, allowing her to “reconnect with writing while adding another dimension to my art. It's fun to create a story through painting things.”

“In hosting an artist who reflects part of our student population,” Caretti said, “I truly hope our students experience an art narrative that is inclusive and comforting, by seeing someone who looks like them.” She also hopes students will be inspired to aim for excellence in the arts courses offered at Mercersburg. “It’s all about making connections and sparking inspiration while witnessing the glorious beauty of Melissa Small’s An Awakening,” Caretti said. 

“Through my work, I hope to inspire viewers to be more thoughtful,” Small concluded. “In a world where we are overstimulated and bombarded with quick videos and tons of pictures, I hope my work encourages people to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds them every day.”

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