Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Lifting Up Spirits

Anne Brown considers the faithful art of Brother Mel

It’s easy to understand why so many people love the work of Mel Meyer, a Marianist brother who has made art his spiritual vocation since 1958. Using a wide range of media, from sculpture to stained glass, Brother Mel expresses his deep religious faith in a thoroughly modern visual language. The work he creates in his Kirkwood, Missouri, studio is sophisticated in concept, often abstract and concerned with pure form, yet it is always beautiful, always infused with a sense of joy. The accessible nature of his work has drawn him a wealth of commissions, and his sculptures adorn spaces ranging from hospitals to hotels all over the United States. His pieces are also in demand with private collectors, and he has a particular following in the Nashville area, thanks to Anne Brown, the proprietor of The Arts Company, a busy downtown gallery. Brown has championed Brother Mel’s work, creating an avid local market for it. Now she has chosen to launch a publishing venture, The Arts Company Press, with Brother Mel: A Lifetime of Making Art, a lavish coffee table book that offers a sampling of Brother Mel’s vast body of work, along with text by Brown that surveys his life and artistic development.

Brown’s introduction sets Brother Mel’s work within the context of contemporary art, describing him as “a maverick artist with a mission” who distances himself from established groups, preferring to “set his own standard as an artist.” She explains the history and philosophy of the Marianists, who eschew a monastic existence in favor of being active agents for good in the world. An understanding of Brother Mel’s faith is essential to understanding his artistic vocation, which, as he says, is all about “bringing beauty to space to lift up spirits.”

There’s no doubt that his art can lift up spirits, as even a quick browse through the full-color photographs in Brother Mel will reveal. Regardless of the medium or the scale, Brother Mel’s works always seem intended to delight. His neon-lit chapel at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis makes a luminous wonderland of the windowless space. “The Sentinels,” an installation of crayon-bright painted steel posts at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, must be a welcome bit of whimsy to young patients and their families. Although Brother Mel devotes particular attention to sculptures large and small, the book also features page after page of paintings, stained glass, and handmade paper creations.

In addition to a brief account of Brother Mel’s early life, Brown provides an overview of his artistic education, and helpfully includes images of the work of his important teachers, such as sculptor Ivan Mestrovic and glass artist Yoki Aebischer. Brother Mel’s study in Europe in the late 1950s is documented with photographs he took at the time. The book itself is beautifully designed by artist John Davis, with images laid out fancifully on the page and lots of color in the text—very much in keeping with the Brother Mel aesthetic. Brown and Davis have created a book that is both a useful guide and a beautiful homage to the artist’s long and prolific career.

Anne Brown and Brother Mel will appear at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville on June 4 at 7 p.m. and at a reception honoring the artist’s 82nd birthday at The Arts Company (215 Fifth Avenue of the Arts, North) on June 5 from 6 to 9 p.m.