The JPNDC Brewery Small Business Complex is home to 50 small businesses. Did you know that number includes several artist studios as well? One of those artists is Melissa Rocklen, owner of Rocklen Designs, who creates her beautiful mobiles just steps away from JPNDC’s offices. Today, we are chatting with Melissa about her nature-inspired artwork, her favorite public art pieces in JP, and her role with the JP Arts Council.
K: Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
M: I am from a small town in Connecticut, right outside New Haven. It’s kind of country-ish. Now I live in JP, by Forest Hills. I’ve lived in JP for 11 years and in Forest Hills for about four. I’ve been in Boston off and on for about 17 years.
K: How long have you been making art? Did you study art?
M: I’ve been making art since I was little. My mom is an artist and my grandmother is an artist. My mom is a print-maker so I would work a lot with her when I was younger in her studio. I wanted to study art in college but that was forbidden! I ended up studying psychology and art. I made it work. I did a fellowship after college and I got to study art in a number of countries, including Indonesia, Ghana, Mali, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and Mexico. It was really fun. It was only a year but it was a life-changing year. It was good because I got to create art. I apprenticed with mask-makers, potters, and mosaic artists. It was very cool. Afterwards, I went to grad school for social work but I continued making art throughout. I made jewelry and had a little jewelry making business and then that transformed into making mobiles about six years ago.
K: Tell me about your mobiles.
M: I work with polymer clay and all different metals like steel, copper, and brass. I work with a lot of glass beads. Sometimes, I will use paper and aluminum. The mobiles range from little to big and they are all inspired by nature. The idea is to create something that changes the feeling of a room through movement, light and shadow. Mobiles have this fantastic quality of creating calm and I love the idea of making art that is both beautiful and helps people feel good. I make them for indoors but people sometimes put them outdoors.
K: Does Jamaica Plain inspire the mobiles you create?
M: Absolutely, especially the nature. I will go jogging and take pictures when I’m jogging and a lot of the time those pictures will inspire mobiles. Now, when I see a certain place, I can remember the mobile that that place inspired. I could tell you all about the different trees in JP but that would probably be really boring! There are trees on Hyde Park Ave. that gather lots of ice hanging from them in the winter so I made a whole series of mobiles inspired by those. There is another tree that has lots of yellow flowers hanging from it on the Arborway and that has inspired another set of mobiles. I could talk forever about all of the different flowers I see.
K: Tell me about your work with the JP Arts Council.
M: The JP Arts Council coordinates JP Open Studios and a bunch of other arts events throughout the year around JP. They’ve been around for a bunch of years. JP Open Studios is for artists in JP to open up their studios so that people can come in and see the work that they are doing and how they do their work. There are group sites during Open Studios because many artists don’t necessarily have their own studio space. It takes place all throughout JP. There are artists from all over JP, all over Boston, and some from outside of Boston. JP is an art loving community so people like to come here.
I started participating in JP Open Studios 11 years ago when I moved to JP, and I started coordinating the JPNDC Brewery Small Business Complex site for JP Open Studios about five years ago. Two years ago, Syd, who co-coordinates with me, and I joined the board. The goal of the JP Arts Council is to bring art to JP and support artists in JP. What I’ve done since I joined the board is help organize Open Studios and Projections. Projections is a show where people submit their work and pieces to display. They always wanted to have an event outside and make it easy for people to engage, so the JPNDC Brewery Small Business Complex was a nice choice. We accept all art that is submitted and jury a few pieces for awards. We present all of the work by projecting it onto a screen on the walls outside of The Brewery. We have music and food and it’s just a really cool event.
Right now, the JP arts scene is very centered around Centre Street, but there are enclaves of art throughout JP. My goal is to try to make art more accessible to more parts of JP. I would love to see the JP Arts Council collaborate on more events in Hyde Square, Forest Hills, and Egleston Square. We need to make sure that art is accessible to everyone and everywhere in JP. There are tons of different art organizations in JP so if we all work together I think we can make it happen.
K: Tell me about your connection to JPNDC.
M: I have so much respect for the work that the JPNDC does. Right now, I feel lucky to have studio space at The Brewery Complex, which is a JPNDC development. I’ve also gotten to work with Lisa, Roy, and Dana on coordinating Open Studios and Projections at The Brewery. JPNDC has been very supportive of the arts in JP.
K: Do you have a favorite piece of JP public art?
M: There are so many public art pieces in JP that I love. A few are the metal, kinetic sculpture by the pond in the Forest Hills Cemetery. I love how it sounds, how it moves, and how it looks like a flock of birds. Another favorite is the ‘City on a Hill’ at the cemetery. It consists of a number of buildings representing people who are buried in the cemetery. I also love the many murals, especially the mural along Perkins Street, the one on the back side of Whole Foods, the mural along the side of Purple Cactus, and the JPNDC mural across from the Jackson Square T stop. I also loved how Forest Hills Cemetery used to have installations of art. It’s unfortunate that they don’t do that anymore.
K: Do you have a favorite JP tradition or event?
M: I love the formal, community events that people come out to like JP Open Studios and Wake Up the Earth. Sadly, I work most weekends, so I don’t get to experience these and other organized events that often. But I think my favorite events are the informal ones like the small movie theater that someone has set up in a garage near where I live, the Halloween corridor that happens along the streets perpendicular to Centre, and the party that the folks on Buy Nothing JP are organizing so that people can meet each other. The informal events are like fantastic, little surprises.
K: What are some of your favorite places in JP?
M: Franklin Park. I love jogging through there, getting lost, and finding new spots. I also love that people have put up random pieces of art in there. For instance, someone has painted a couple of trees in the Franklin Park woods. Forest Hills Cemetery is another favorite. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and I feel like I learn something new every time I go in. The pond in the Cemetery is the perfect place to sit and think about things. I love how the sunset looks from the top of the stairs at Park Lane. For food places, I don’t know what I’d do without Chilacates, Fomu, Alex’s Chimis, Tres Gatos for cocktails, and Seven Pond has pretty fantastic coffee.
K: What would you like to see for JP in the future?
M: I’d love for art to maintain a place in JP. JP’s long been a place that appreciates art and artists. In the past, it’s been a neighborhood that artists have been able to afford. That’s gotten harder as rent and housing prices have gone up. In an ideal world, I would love for JP to have affordable housing, maintain space and appreciation for art, and to also maintain its green spaces. It would be great to have more bike paths, especially in Forest Hills, where it currently feels like I stare death in the face every time I get on my bike. I would also like to see more community events and more public art. That would be fantastic.