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Mel's Knees



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Unique Cypress Knee Art


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    Once upon a time there was an entire village of very small beings who lived along a bayou bank. Unfortunately, an evil sorceress lived nearby. The villagers were always nice to her, because they were naturally kind folks. But the evil sorceress hated them anyway (she couldn't stand to see happiness!). So she put a spell on the entire village and turned them into cypress knees. And cypress knees they stayed for hundreds of years.
    Until one day, an artist was walking along the bayou bank and saw these knees. Being an artist (you know artists have some magic powers of their own), she was able to see the beings inside the knees. And so she has committed her life to releasing the villagers and returning them to their former selfs. And, so far, they're living happily ever after!

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This is a picture of one of my pieces...I usually name them, but have had problems with this one. I'm open to suggestions! In case you can't tell, it's a cockatoo sitting on the back of a dog...I don't know why!! I just paint what I see!

I paint Cypress knees...at least that's what we in the south call them! For all of you in the rest of the world, that's just the root of the cypress tree that sticks up above the ground.


Cypress Knees
Here is a cool picture of cypress knees, the way they look out in the wild! I love to go out where they are growing...it's like a fairy land! I grew up near a bayou, and we would play down on it's banks in the winter...when the snakes were sleeping! All of the knees looked like magical creatures to me. That's where my fascination began!

I had some that my father cut for me just laying around the yard for about 15 years, before I decided what to do with them. At Christmas one year, I drew my Aunt's name. She collects Santas, and I thought,"Why not make her one out of a cypress knee?". And so it began! I make all sorts of creatures out of them...Santas, elves, animals, wizards, trolls...you name it, I make it! They are all, of course, caricatures.

I guess I should tell you how I do it. Before I do that, let me assure you that cutting the knees does not harm the tree in any way! And the knees grow back. Ask anyone who has them growing in their yard! They are almost impossible to get rid of!

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Now, with that out of the way, I'll tell you how we get them and prepare them for painting. First, my parents and I go down to the bayou behind our house with the chain saw. Now, I have to tell you that for me, this is like going to my favorite store with an unlimited amount of money! I CAN HAVE ANYTHING I WANT!!! It's great! While I point at the ones I want, they cut them down! LOL Then we load them into burlap bags and haul them up to the house...this is a real job!! Then, I have to let them dry for several weeks. Some of the smaller ones I can dry in the oven. After they are dry, I strip off the bark with a bench grinder. The cypress knees have a really thick bark...under the outer bark is a thin reddish layer. All of this must be removed. It is a nasty and time-consuming job...I don't like this part very much! I hav tried boiling them and stripping them with a knife, but this seems to work best. Next, they must be sanded on the bench grinder...then hand sanded! I like for them to feel as smooth as glass. That's not always possible, but I try! When I sand, I try to leave their natural shape, as much as I can, because that's the challenge! And the fun!

Now I'm ready to paint them...this is the part that's impossible to explain. People always ask me (and all artists, I'm sure!) where I get my ideas. Where does anyone get an idea? I think that they come from one's experiences and life...I have always been a voracious reader and so many of my ideas seem to come from things I've read. Fairy tales, myths, etc. Others resemble people I know. But, mostly, the knee tells me what it is! Fanciful? Perhaps, but I AM an ARTIST!!

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Anyway, these are pictures of some of my works. The one on the right (above) is "Jus' a travelin' giraffe". He now lives with a friend of mine, Mary. His hat brim is leather, and I love how it looks so battered...just as if he really had been traveling around a lot!

On the right is "The cast from the hit Broadway Musical Pigs"! I wish you could see it from all sides...there are pig-guys all the way round, holding up the star! And she's loving it! I think she must have a little bit of Miss Piggy in her!



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On the right is one of my favorite pieces, "Rock Hounds". I wish it was a better picture...it's a really cool piece! I think I like it so much because I was a serious rockhound growing up. Whenever we went on vacation, the rear of the car would almost be dragging the ground on our way home, because I would fill the trunk with neat rocks! LOL! I still have a lot of them! This is what I meant about experience shaping art.



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The name for this piece was inspired by a film, (which I didn't even see!) Desperately Seeking Susan. It's called Desperately Seeking Fifi! As I was painting this dog, he just began to look more and more French...and, of course, the beret is the final touch. He's also wearing a button that says L'amour on Le Brain! His ears and tail are made from leather...it helps to have a dad who's a leather craftsman! LOL! He's a fairly large piece-about 16" tall and almost that wide at the bottom. My pieces range in size from about 2" to 3' tall! I much prefer the smaller ones!


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This piece is called The Golden Years, and is unusual because the knee has been eaten by worms! I left a whole batch of knees outside for several months, before attempting to strip them. When I did, I got a nasty surprise! Worms had burrowed under the bark, where they laid eggs...yuck! Well, at first I thought they were useless, but the more I looked at them, the more interesting I found them. Now they are some of my favorites to paint. It's amazing...the worms have carved perfect little faces all over them! Talented little rascals! Oh, yeah, I also got a whole slew of moths when the eggs hatched!! Life's weird...and wonderful!



I'll add more pictures eventually, so check back every so often. I hope you enjoyed these!



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