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Featured Artist: Melissa Macker

I’m originally from Florida, but I’ve called Macon home for 14 years. I moved to Middle Georgia when my husband, John, got a job at the Air Force base, and I immediately fell in love with downtown Macon. I met the pastor of New City Church as they were starting The 567 Center for Renewal, and that gave me an outlet to get involved downtown. I became the executive director of The 567 Center, and I’ve been involved with The 567, and with New City Church, ever since.

John and I live in a historic home which we share with our dog, Buddy. I actually have a Master’s degree in horticulture with a minor in nonprofit organizations. Since I don’t get to use my horticulture degree professionally, my garden at home is my outlet. I grow a combination of flowers, herbs and vegetables. I love collecting new plants, trying out plant combinations visually, and the technical challenge of figuring out how to grow a specific plant. In my vegetable garden, I’ll choose purple beans or purple basil just because they look more interesting than everything being green. I make room for zinnias in my vegetable bed because they are colorful and because they attract pollinators. I make sure there’s something blooming in my garden every month of the year.

For a long time I said I’m not an artist, but my artist friends tell me that’s not true. The only “art” you’ll find of mine in the gallery at The 567 is some terrariums I planted. The truth is, I have always had a creative side. I grew up teaching myself watercolor or drawing with books at home, but it was never something I dedicated myself to. I took a film photography class in middle school. Plants, though, were what really inspired me. For a short time I thought I would go into landscape design as a career, but after taking landscape design in college I decided it competed with my desire for sleep. Several years back a friend shared a quiz online titled, “what’s your creative type?” I took the quiz, and the results spoke to me. I realized that there are different kinds of artists, and that just because I don’t fit the stereotype doesn’t mean I can’t be creative.

I love working with artists through The 567 Center and getting to know such talented and creative people. They’ve inspired me to try new things artistically. When I saw one of my photographer friends, Andy Carter, post close-up photos he took of flowers on Facebook, I suddenly realized I wanted to be able to do that. I saved up for a DSLR camera, and I learned the basics from Andy when he taught an Introduction to Photography class at The 567. Now I use my camera for a combination of work and play. Mostly I take photos of flowers in my garden.

When I saw a request for submissions for a downtown photography exhibit with a nature theme a few years ago, it spoke to me. Thanks to the encouragement of a couple of my photographer friends, I submitted. Amazingly, one of my photos was chosen! They even paid me for it to be on display, so I guess that makes me a professional artist. It was a photo I took during the pandemic of a bee feeding on a blueberry flower on my patio. Coincidentally, they decided to display it next to a photo by Andy Carter, so that was really special for me.

As a child, I was often in my own little world, playing with weeds and imagining adventures in the trees. When I take photos or make other kinds of art, it’s often my attempt to return to the magic of childlike wonder. One spring I wandered around my backyard and took photos of the flowering weeds in our lawn. I love looking at flowers up close and admiring the details in their shape or watching the insects buzzing around them.

I post most of my garden photos to social media because people seem to like them. The rest of my art tends to only be shown to my mother, my husband, and a couple of artist friends I trust to be kind. Other kinds of art I enjoyed dabbling in occasionally are hand lettering and India ink illustrations. I also have taken a few pottery classes at The 567, but I find pottery both enjoyable and difficult. Recently I discovered an interest in paper craft and collage, and I would like to explore that more and incorporate India ink into it.

Essentially, I like math and tend to be more of a left-brained person. My creative process starts with seeing something I like that I want to duplicate. I use Pinterest or Instagram to find examples of other art similar to it, and that helps me get a feel of what is possible. Then I research to figure out what materials or skills I need to make that, and I practice some foundational skills to get the basic technique. I might copy something I liked to practice those skills. Finally, I try to make something original based on what I learned.

At work, my creative outlet is usually program design. I love coming up with a program idea that might fill a need, and then figuring out all the moving parts like a giant puzzle to make it come together. Maybe that’s why collage appeals to me—it’s like putting together a puzzle.

A couple of years ago, I came up with the concept for All Hands Art Festival as a way to promote some of the unsung art mediums: pottery, glass, metal and wood. It also is intended as a way to bring artists to Macon and promote art tourism in our city. Goals aside, I envisioned it having a certain art-village vibe, like if an art festival and a Renaissance Festival had a baby. I love getting to walk into The 567’s pottery studio every day and see people making so many different kinds of ceramic art, and I wanted to bring some of that wonder to a festival with both vendors and demonstrations. That first festival was everything I hoped--it was absolute magic. It required a team of people with skills different than mine to pull it off, but the end result was so satisfying.

Except for the rare person who can try any medium and be amazing the first time (I know one of those), art usually takes time and practice to be good at it. It requires mistakes before mastery comes. Most of my life I struggled with that, so that’s why I didn’t make more art. Unlike the festival that met most of my expectations the very first time, most of my art I don’t end up liking because it didn’t immediately turn out like I envisioned. I’m trying to learn to trust the process and look for improvement instead of perfection, both in art and life.

When I talk to people about art classes at The 567, I frequently get a reply to the effect of “oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have any talent.” Practice and learning aside, I am a big believer in the idea that you just have to find your medium. Not all artists are the same. I know a glass blower who can’t draw to save his life. He could have said, “I can’t draw, so I’m not an artist,” and just given up there. We get a lot of visitors to The 567 who don’t care about painting, but fall in love with pottery after one class. I will keep practicing photography, India ink and pottery, but I will also keep trying new things. There might be a medium out there that I haven’t tried yet that feels just right for me.

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