It could be said that Melanie Hunter is a member of a rare breed.
The artist came to MCCC on Tuesday, March 13 for a lecture that discussed her career and work. A public display of her works will be shown in the library until Monday, April 30.
“I work primarily as a sculptor, primarily with cast glass, which is a process of creating objects in glass,” she says. “I’ve been doing that for at least 25 years.”
Therese O’Halloran, art professor, made it very clear.
“Melanie is one of only five people in the United States that does glass-casting,” she says. “Usually what she does would be sent out of the country.”
O’Halloran was the one who brought Hunter to MCCC.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Hunter says. “I think she brought me in here because my work is quite different.”
Hunter herself hails from Jarrow in the north of England.
“I was an undergrad at Sunderland University in the northeast,” she says. “I did my undergrad there in glass and ceramics.”
When asked why she came to America, Hunter’s answer is simple.
“It was ’84, ’88; Thatcher was prime minister,” she says. “High unemployment in the northeast – I think it was 18 percent? There weren’t very many opportunities after undergraduate school that I thought that I could thrive in. I needed a monumental change.”
After scouting around, she happened upon the Illinois State University. It was there that she attended graduate school.
“My work changed a lot; different culture, different place. It was a really fantastic opportunity, one that I just couldn’t pass up,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate – I mean, I walked right out of graduate school and into a job, which happens very rarely into the job that you want, especially now.
“When I think back to the situation I had back then, it’s practically unheard of.”
Hunter resides in Bloomington, Illinois and works primarily with famed artist Nicolas Africano, fabricating his sculptures.
“I also make my own sculpture, which is glass, mixed-media; a lot more experimental,” she says. “Then I work with other artists, casting and, you know, doing one-off fabricating jobs when they’re looking specifically for cast-glass work.”
She describes the work as very physical, technical, and often frustrating, but it’s obvious she loves it.
“It’s my life’s work,” she says.
The work she does with Africano is very high-end.
“They take a long time to make, they’re very expensive to make. At the beginning, we had lots of trial and error trying to get these pieces right,” she says. “That was because my skills were at a certain level and each piece is different; no two pieces are alike.
“It’s constant learning, constant trial and error, constant experimentation, and it doesn’t get boring! There’s always something new; either there’s a hitch, or you figure something and out there’s a eureka moment.”
Hunter laughs at the thought of picking a favorite piece.
“Oh God, that’s really hard!” she says. “Really hard to say. I have lots of favorite pieces, but some of them it was figuring out a really difficult piece and having it really work beautifully when it’s finished and in the gallery, where it should be. Then you come back and look at it and you can see the progress you made.
“That’s a tough question.”
She describes her speech as partly-chronological, giving the trajectory from undergrad to her working life. Also covered were the techniques that she uses and getting into the various kinds of work that she does.
“I do lots of different things. They all inform each other. I’m a welder, I’m a glass-caster, I’m also a photographer,” she says. “I do all these things in the studio because you can’t just hire one person to do one thing, you have to be efficient.
“I have a lot of roles in the studio, but I like that! I love that variety! My photography’s getting better and I’m learning more about how to do a photo archive on a computer because I have to do all these things because there’s not that many hands to do them.”
She describes the process as constant learning.
“I thrive on that,” she says. “I think any artist thrives on that. I try to improve on what I’m not great at and I’m constantly improving on my casting.
“It benefits me in all kinds of ways because it makes me a much more efficient artist in my own studio. It makes me independent in terms of being able to do all these things for myself. Yes, it’s hard work, but I like hard work.”
Hunter previously taught in graduate school, but hasn’t really been to community colleges. She says she did get quite a lot of satisfaction from teaching, however.
“I love to come into this environment because I find that younger minds want to learn and want to see everything,” she says. “So it’s a nice environment for me to get out of the studio, where I mostly work alone.
“Here I get to interact with people starting their careers and just beginning their post-high school education and it’s fun to interact with them. I really enjoy it.”