By Jan Westmark-Allan
The first thing I notice when I walked into Louise Mellon’s sunny art studio in Aiken, South Carolina, is that it makes me smile. The walls are covered with Louise’s vivid artwork – from traditional pieces that take your breath away to the quirky ones like her “Olympic Show Bull Jumping” painting that causes you to not only smile, but chuckle out loud.
Louise is a well known equestrian artist and a long time friend of Sidelines Magazine. I was fortunate to be able to visit her farm while in Aiken and was delighted to meet the person behind the art. I was also enchanted by her studio, where all the magic happens. Louise’s studio is a welcome spot for people and animals alike and her Corgi, Ruffles, roams freely while a parade of Shetland Ponies, chickens and pigs (the big ones, not the pot-bellied version) walk past the giant windows. It isn’t unusual to find her pony, Little Richard, in the studio posing as a “live” subject, either. In the barn across the courtyard, Louise’s two handsome grey Connemara ponies, Linus and Lance, also provide inspiration for her artwork.
For an artistic person like Louise, the studio is all about creating art that can make someone smile. “It’s such a dire time for so many people and if I can bring a smile to people than it makes it worth it. I paint to cheer people up and I love it when they ‘get’ my art,” Louise said. What Louise wants people to get is the humor in her paintings. “My favorite thing to paint is humor and animals. People always ask me where my ideas come from and the answer is that I’ve always seen the twist in everything. Plus I have real life inspiration such as the time a hen was attacking one of my Connemaras.”
Louise points to a painting on the wall called “Barnyard Mayhem” that shows a naughty pony chasing a rooster. The painting makes me smile. “In real life, the hen went for him, flew up on his back and gave him what for as he galloped across the paddock,” Louise says with a laugh. “Cheering people up is so important. Life is too precious not to smile.”
If there is anyone who knows how precious life can be, it is Louise. As a passenger in a carriage ride in Maine in 2000, she was thrown head first into a stone wall at high speed. She suffered multiple broken bones, underwent four surgeries and incurred brain trauma, which brought on early onset Essential Tremor. While Louise has recovered from the accident, the Essential Tremor left her with hands that shake – a recipe for disaster for an artist that makes her living creating with her hands. “I can’t not paint or create, it’s genetic and pre-programmed into me,” Louise explained, adding that before the accident she created jewelry and highly detailed paintings. “Now, because I can’t control my hands, I have switched to pastels or oil pastels, which is kind of like using crayons.”
Louise demonstrates how she has to brace her arm to paint now. While her style has changed, her creative spirit and love of art – passed down from her family – remains. Louise grew up in Middleburg, Virginia in a family of artists. “All the women in my family are professional artists. My mother is 95 and still in business. We have great work ethics and creativity is what keeps us going,” she said.
While visiting a friend in Aiken in 1999, Louise did the unexpected and on her third day in town she bought a house. Now named Unbridled Farm, she is quick to point out that the house was a horrible mess. “It took three years to bring it back. I added the barn and the studio. I love coming into this studio to work.”
Louise isn’t the only one who gets to use the studio. In keeping with her generous nature, Louise loans out her studio to other artists and organizations. “Everything in the studio is on rollers and I can move it all out of the way or upstairs. Charitable organizations can come in and use my studio for events and one month out of the year I am the den mother for four different artists from the American Academy of Equine Art in Kentucky. Each artist uses my studio for one week.”
Louise generously agreed to create a painting for the cover of this Sidelines art issue and during my visit she showed me the painting and talked about it. It’s an Olympic themed painting that pays tribute to all of the horses from the United States who participated in the Games and I smile when I notice that the horse’s hooves are painted red, white and blue. “I do my art for myself but I also do it to make people smile.” Louise has certainly achieved her goal – and along the way created beautiful work that will cause smiles for generations to come.
To see more of Louise Mellon’s artwork, visit her website at www.louisemellon.com.