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Melisande Charles

Melisande Charles

Minneapolis Arts Commission Executive, Muralist, Clothing Designer & Trauma Survivor

Born: CA, United States
Heritage: European American

Follow your hearts. Find out what is inside of you that you love that you most like to do. Don’t let anyone tell you who to be and what to be. The best thing in life is to be pleased with what you don and where you are going.

Melisande Charles

Minneapolis Arts Commission Executive, Muralist, Clothing Designer & Trauma Survivor

My name is Melisande Charles. I arrived on Earth June 28, 1931. My father came from Holland when he was 20. He met my mother in Los Angeles. They were married when the Depression hit. My father worked as a composer at a movie studio but lost his job during this period. I lived on a five-acre ranch with my three sisters and aunt while my parents went off to New York City for other work. We lived on their ranch until our parents came back. I lived in New York City for many years after that.

I went to public and private school. When I decided to become a visual artist my parents were very supportive. I became an art student at the Brooklyn City Art School. It was an exciting time in New York City. I was part of the art league at age sixteen and by nineteen I was at the Brooklyn Museum. I then lived in Mexico for two years to study mural painting.

A couple of years after that I got married. I continued to work as an artist and proceeded to have three children: Rachel, Alexandria, and Justine. I went to Mexico again with my children for two years. They went to a Spanish-speaking school and learned to speak it fluently. I bought and dyed wool for rugs and designed clothes to make a living.

After two years I came back with my children to the United States. I became the executive director for an art center in New York. It had a gallery and I got all of the schools in the area to be involved so they would have shows there. It became one of the premiere art centers in that part of the country.

I came to Minneapolis to be executive for the arts commission, for the city. We mounted a laser show on top of the IDS building. The problem was that people came into the city and turned all of the lights on in the building so on the first night we couldn’t see the lasers. The newspapers called me a fraud. The next night, though, was perfect for the laser show. Creating a web of light was one of the more exciting things I ever did!

When I left the arts commission I thought I’d go back as an artist. I was then hired to run the Minnesota Dance Theater. From there I went back into animation. I always wanted to do moving paintings. I became very interested in computers. The computer at that time was really big and really loud. It wasn’t like computers today.

Then one day I was in an automobile accident while coming home from work. I got out of the car and everything seemed to be okay. I kept going downhill, though, for a month. I ended up in the hospital in a coma, which was the end of my working life. I essentially was not expected to live; now here I am. They say I am a miracle. It took a lot of work to come back to where I am today. In order to recover I took a long trip visiting old friends around the United States. I came back to Minneapolis and began to live my life as an artist. I have been doing that for three years, painting and working on the computer.

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Honoring Melisande Charles

Follow Your Heart

Arrived on Earth June twenty-eighth
Nineteen thirty-one
My father came here as a young man
All the way from Holland
He met my mother in Los Angeles
When the depression hit
My father was a composer
Lost his job, made the best of it
Follow your heart
Find out what’s inside of you
Follow your heart
Be pleased with what you do
Follow your heart
Don’t let anyone tell you what to be
Follow your heart
Follow your heart

When I was ten-years old
Studied how to paint signs
Intrigued by the letters of
Space within and outside
Studied with Max Beckman
Made murals in Mexico
The real beauty of drawing
Is to take you beyond what you know
Got married then divorced
Three children on my own
Weaving rugs on the loom
Back down in Mexico
Came back north to New York
Weaving threads of community
From orchestras to potters
From poets to dance companies
To Minneapolis I soon came
Where I organized
For the arts commission
The whole citywide
Take a risk, take a chance
It may not turn out right
But if you do, I’m telling you
You can weave a web of light
Then one day while driving home
A man slammed into me
I was not expected to live
All I was I could not be
It took work, a miracle
Took a ride on that train
To all the close ones I know
That trauma I overcame
Weaving life with a camera
Taking one photo every day
Connecting threads of memory
In my own way
You are important
Be what you want to be
Stick to it and do it
And you will be happy

Words by LARRY LONG with Ms. Isakson’s 4th grade class of FAIR SCHOOL.
(Crystal, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI