Artist Statement

Almost every year since 1977 I have carved a valentine for family and friends. The first was intended to serve as a poster for the Valentine’s Day Square Dance at our local grange in Vernonia, Oregon. Nancy cut newsprint into lace boarders for each notice posted.

We were married on Valentine’s Day in 1979. That year’s woodblock commemorates that grand event, held in my hometown of Chappaqua, New York. Thus was born a tradition of annual greetings, in lieu of a Christmas card, a review of the year. Though these prints record for the most part idiosyncratic personal memories, dreams and histories, en mass I hope they display our shared love and also the enthusiasm with which we share our work and play each year.

You will see in these images my work as a commercial artist, Nancy’s love of handwork and handcraft, May’s love of books and art, Leif’s youthful enthusiasm for baseball. I learned to cut woodblocks in Japan as a boy and am fond of and utilize decorative feints from Japanese graphic arts. You can also see inspirations from the illustrations of West African pulp novels from the sixties in the original dancing couples.

-Thomas Kirk Melvin

Visible Love, 2012

Valentine 2012

Summer of 2012 saw the painting of visible gas pumps in Richard Haas’s Dixie Service Station mural in Homewood, Illinois adjacent to Pete’s Garage at 187th and Dixie Hwy. It is a portrait of Nancy and I with the tools of our trades.

Valentines Day Square Dance, 1977

Valentine 1977

The beginning of the Valentine print tradition, printed as a poster to announce an upcoming Square Dance at the Vernonia, Oregon Grange.  Also sent to friends by mail.  Somehow Dan’s came back to us, fortuitously as it is the only copy we have.

Whirling Contact Improvisation, 1980

Valentine 1980

“Love is inside out and upside down.  Sometimes you’ll have just one hand on the ground.” ~Nancy Melvin

Our earliest community of friends in Chicago arose from contact improvisation jams and workshops.  We met every Wednesday and Sunday:  first at a tiny studio in Facets Multimedia, then the large floor of Moming, leading us to commit together to found intimate little Links Hall Studio in the late seventies.

Windshield Tit Tock, 1984

Valentine 1984

Driving to work, mate gourd and hot water held by Nancy, Tom holds May’s baby bottle to take with her when at the sitter, dropping Nancy off at the MCA, taking himself to the studio.  Diaper changes and feedings mark the hours.

May as Genie, 1996

Valentine 1996

May as genie, drawing our year on her pottery, our feet atop planes and cars, Leif’s well-hit baseball speeds by beneath our noses.  Here is the Astoria column, the gilded dome of Holy Trinity Cathedral, the fluted stacks of a Mississippi River boat, a vase of roses and more.

In the Clouds, 2001

Valentine 2001
Our silhouetted kiss on the surface of Lake Michigan as seen from on high in the clouds.  Under our chins is the south end of the lake, the stacks of industry near our beloved Dunes.  Cupid’s arrow marked with a 22 for our anniversary speedsOur silhouetted kiss on the surface of Lake Michigan as seen from on high in the clouds.  Under our chins is the south end of the lake, the stacks of industry near our beloved Dunes.  Cupid’s arrow marked with a 22 for our anniversary speeds toward home. toward home.

Cats In and Out, 2002

Valentine 2002

The year 2002, a palindrome year was our 23rd anniversary.  Nancy and I here both dancing and suspended from a heart shaped hot air balloon.  Cat lovers know how they are.

Chicken Feet Domino Dance, 2003

Valentine 2003

Palm trees from a Jacksonville, Florida job, May studying in college and Leif tossing baseballs in High School laden with backpack; we do a dance based upon Bob Halverson’s favorite domino game, chicken feet.

Cape Girardeau/Chicago Phone Calls, 2004

Valentine 2004

Truly person-to-person, the airways between Cape Girardeau, Missouri and our bungalow in Chicago were kept very busy while my crew and I painted the 18’ foot high by 1500’ long Mississippi River Tales Mural.  Through the trompe l’oeil arches of this painting a sternwheeler steams by.

Lofty Enterprises, 2005

Valentine 2005

The Grand Teton was summitted, LaSalle Towers re-done with swing stage and Trinity Lutheran of Cape completed with boom lift.  Back in River Park, beneath towering cottonwoods and their rustling heart shaped leaves, I walk the two dogs.

Empty Nesters, 2006

Valentine 2006

This year’s print was partly inspired by The Unparallel Adventures of One Hans Pfaall and his escape from creditors as told by Edgar Allen Poe, and also simply the lightness of our empty nest with both children in college.  The old, well-used, gas-guzzling van was cut free this year.  Our bungalow converted to a hot-air powered flying machine with aileron oars to steer by, providing lofty romantic views from the back porch.  Soaring above the earth, the trajectories of my year’s travels demarked upon the continental United States, center of the print, can be seen through the vapor of lift off.  Only our home’s footprint is left behind.

Sweeping Up, 2008

Valentine 2008

A strong wind blew in a living room window, shattering on the coffee table.  Sweeping up the broken glass in a broken economy and then taking two cups of mate together on our 29th anniversary.

Blini Valentine, 2010

Valentine 2010

Serving up a tower of Blini, laden with chopped hardboiled eggs and smoked fish.  Nancy pours melted butter.  Tom tosses on the caviar.  Every year we celebrate the Butter Festival, Maslinitsa, with a big party the day before Lent starts.

Memory Eternal, 2011

Tom plucks a rose from the Milliken mansion ceiling he restored, for Nancy who is crossing guard for her Waldorf charges, watching May’s chicken’s cross the road.  We both lost our mothers that year so their final favorite views in the heart shaped insets:  for Sis Melvin the dock on Williams pond in Wellfleet and for Lolly Halverson the view from her Orcas Island home looking down on the Puget Sound.

Dancing Atop the 1893 World Columbian Exposition’s Peristyle, 2013

Valentine 2013

The Little Prince’s Asteroid passed nearby this Valentine’s Day.  It illuminates the scene as does the searchlight atop the massive Manufacturers’ Building seen through statuary.  One of the statues is moved to let loose cupid’s arrow.  Six murals in progress at the studio during the winter of 2012 for Walsh Construction all concern the World Columbian Exposition.  I spent a lot of time imagining myself walking around the Fair.

Hanging Valentines, Café Selmarie February 2014

Hanging Valentines 2014

Photo by May Melvin

Tom and Nancy with the first Valentine hanging between them in an oval frame decorated with hand cut crepe-paper lace. Showing them in the Café at the heart of Lincoln Square makes it possible to sit and live with the prints, much like at home.