Melissa Sarris, Chatham, NY, USAMelissa Sarris started as a photographer and received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, NYC. After a stint as a dairy farmer in Maine, she began a craft-based art practice in Chatham, NY. She created her own quilt designs and worked primarily with hand-dyed cotton fabrics.
In 2013 Melissa received her MFA from the University of Albany, broadening the focus of her art practice to include Socially Engaged Art and working at the intersection of community engagement and social justice. In addition, she teaches at Siena College, Albany NY, where she incorporates socially engaged concepts into course syllabi.
Melissa’s recent work includes:
BitterSweet – a series of art-making workshops combining clay, abstraction, human emotion, and chocolate working with incarcerated men and women, a mental health peer support group, and at-risk teens.
Hip Hop Sew – a summer-long collaboration at the Troy Boys and Girls Club, translating the rhythm, beat and tempo of Hip Hop music into color, pattern and quilt design. Melissa co-organized Dislocations: Artists Respond to Mass Incarceration at Collar Works Gallery in Troy, NY, showcasing work of several regional and nationally known artists.
Cut, press, stitch, repeat. This is the physical process of my making with sewing. My definition of ‘quilt’ is quite broad. It can include almost any materials that can be stitched together. The modular qualities of small irregular pieces provides me with unlimited construction possibilities.
Color is the connector, the metaphor, and the intent. I tap into stored up memories of urban or rural settings. In the studio, serendipitous viewing of fabrics (say as scraps happen to lay on the floor,) informs my choices. I learn from these moments and allow intuition to flourish in the decisions I make.
I wish to expand Joseph Beuy’s term ‘social sculpture’ to include quilts, fabric, and stitching. Having quiet moments cloistered in my studio is only half of my practice. Working together with a variety of communities allows me to draw from the social history and culture of stitching and quilt making and connecting it with contemporary issues. This has led me to work with incarcerated men and women as both teacher and collaborator. By taking my specialized training as an artist and going where beauty and creativity are missing I work the hardest and feel most rewarded. My projects create opportunities for interaction among strangers, making intimate and informal exchanges possible. The public become active participants, co-authoring the work with me, re inventing the framework of art and creating a space where inquiry, compassion, and generosity may flourish.
In 2017 Melissa Sarris received a Community Engagement grant for Sewn Together, a series of quilt making workshops using the social history, culture, and craft of quilts as a means to reflect on issues of incarceration in Columbia County, New York. Melissa worked with men and women incarcerated at the Columbia County Jail to create two hand stitched quilts. She also worked with children, many with an incarcerated parent or family member, teaching them basic sewing skills and collaboratively creating an additional quilt.