#5 of #100NBartists - ceramics artist Melissa Leblanc

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 Melissa Leblanc is a ceramics artist from Fredericton, NB who creates beautiful clay sculptures. She makes delightfully imaginative people and animals that are easily recognizable as classic Melissa Leblanc pieces. Sometimes it's a knitting deer, two geese at a cocktail party, or some bird-watching chickadees. One of the most striking things about Melissa is her life journey, which brought her very near becoming a nun before eventually bringing her to the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and now to the fulfilling creative career she enjoys today. Her sculpture "Wild Harvest", a whimsical little person enveloped in fiddleheads, is currently on display at the Saint John Arts Centre as part of the NBCCD faculty show, "Pride of Place".

I asked Melissa a few questions about her work and her life's path. Here is what she had to say. Thanks for sharing Melissa!

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What do you love about ceramics?

Clay picks up emotions so generously; it’s a malleable material that encourages the sculptor to tell stories with every mark.

Also, there’s an immense amount of directions to investigate in clay, so much so that I feel confident to never exhaust my curiosity and love for it. Just to name a few directions, a ceramic artist can explore functional pottery, miniature pottery, large vessel pottery, sculptures, tiles, wall installations etc.…. clay is so wonderful!

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What have been some significant moments in your life that have made you who you are as an artist?

There is two specific times in my life that looking back I realize were catalysts to me becoming who I am as an artist. Of course, there are many small moments that brought me here, such as my parents being very creative people but two significant moments stand out specifically.

The First: I was the youngest of seven children and we lived in a relatively small home. To have a bit of alone time and peace, in my youth, I would wander the woods exploring and being witness to the daily habits of the wild NB animal kingdom. (I come from Rogersville, NB where large expanses of woods were my back and front yards) I became fascinated by the mysterious lives of the coyotes we heard howling at night, the bears that I never saw but who always left traces of their passing, the eerie hooting of the owls and the chatter of the chipmunks. My imagination ran wild as I tried giving voice to the their quiet furtive presences. If they were humans, who would they be? What stories would they tell? It’s pretty clear looking at my work now that this fascination has stayed with me onto adulthood.

The Second: At the age of 16 I decided to dedicate myself to a religious life and moved to Rhode Island, USA where I attended a preparatory school for young woman discerning a religious vocation. 75 other young women and I lived the life of meditation and prayer in relative and sometimes absolute silence. After three years, it became clear to me that I was not made of the stuff that makes up a good and dedicated religious person. Although this direction was not for me, the quiet contemplative life was to be the breeding ground for developing a rich and creative internal life that is still part of me to this day. In addition, my spell in the religious life has given me contentment in solitude, which serves the ceramic artist working away in their studio quite well.

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Tell me about your "Wild Harvest" piece, and what inspired her?

Here is my artist statement for the “Wild Harvest” piece:

Living on the Nashwask River, I have the privilege of observing the seasonal changes. The most hopeful time of the year and the most New Brunswick of traditions is when we forage for the notorious bright green fiddleheads. In the piece, “Wild Harvest”, the twisting and unfurling ferns blanket the human figure, giving the impression that there is a communion with the environment. This yearly ritual nourishes the body while simultaneously, its beauty and complexity imprints itself onto us and feeds the artistic soul.

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Who is this person?

In a way she is a self-portrait (not really) and in another way she is everyone who is willing to open himself or herself up to the spiritual rewards of the natural world. I was trying to capture a moment and the feeling of that communion between nature and the lessons we get from interacting with it.

What does "Pride of Place" mean to you?

When “Pride of Place” was offered as the theme for the NBCCD faculty show, the first thing that came to mind was the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. Canada as a whole seemed like too big of a concept to relate to. Since in reality, our country is made of diverse people, cultures and natural landscapes.

Therefore, for me “Pride of Place” is associated to the connections we make with our immediate natural surroundings. In New Brunswick we are so very lucky to have such an abundance of rugged beauty.

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Find out more about Melissa on her CreatedHere bio page!