Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 7:31 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Homer woman has thesis show



Photo provided

One of Melanie Clay's art works in her thesis show, this piece includes media like sliced patient bracelets from her numerous hospital visits for cancer treatment.

A woman born and raised in Homer opened her bachelor of fine arts thesis show April 1 at the Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville, Tenn. A mixed-media photography exhibit, Melanie Clay's "Growth By Division Beyond the Normal Limits" investigates the human body and illness and the potential of memory in the body.

Clay, 25, said surviving brain cancer gave focus to her art — and life. At 12, she was diagnosed with cancer. She fell in love with Nashville after getting experimental radiation treatment at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. She was a patient at St. Jude for 10 years and has been cancer free for almost 13 years.

"I feel like that experience pushed me to make the most out of my life," Clay said of her cancer. "It definitely clarified a lot of things, a lot of my goals."

Shooting with large format cameras as well as digitally, Clay's photography has an almost literary quality. For her thesis show, she combines fine art and photography. A collage of photographs, text and other objects, her works include media like strips of her hospital identification bands.

"I definitely pushed myself in areas I had not been trained in for my final show," Clay said. "I felt my work needed that extra part to say what I needed to say."

A 5-year program, Watkins College has about 500 students. In addition to her thesis, Clay has to do a thesis paper, talk and presentation before faculty and students.

"It's been a really awesome journey," Clay said of her college career. "The faculty is very close to its students and encouraging. It's very personable."

After graduating in May, Clay said she will take some time off before pursuing a master's degree in art therapy. Her goal is to help other cancer survivors, particularly adolescents. A board member of the Surviving and Moving Forward Fund, or the SAMFund, Clay credits the nonprofit organization with helping her get back on her feet after cancer. The SAMFund helps young adults who have survived cancer with scholarships, financial assistance and emotional support. Clay received a scholarship from the SAMFund.

"They're an advocate for survivors," she said.

Her long-term goal is to continue working with the SAMFund and develop a career in art therapy.

"If I could combine the two, that would be my dream: the photo world, the nonprofit world and the survivor community," she said.

Clay is the daughter of Phil and Tammy Clay and the sister of Laurel and Kelly Clay. Her parents spend winters in Texas and summer in Homer. For more images of Clay's photography, visit her website at www.melanieclay.net. For information on the SAMFund, visit www.thesamfund.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.