Mel Watkin: Trees Bark

Mel Watkin

April 22 — June 18
The Kranzberg

May 6, 6pm Reception (The Kranzberg) and 7pm Artist Talk (The Sheldon)

*Private gallery visits can be made for all galleries by appointment with COVID-19 mitigation policies in place. To make an appointment, and for questions or concerns, please contact  janae@kranzfoundati1.wpengine.com or (314) 533-0367 ext. 118


Essentially, my work is about the process of drawing––the layering of marks to create images and patterns. I have long work on surfaces other than plain paper. Surfaces that come with embedded histories such as graph paper, lace, and road maps. I focus on present day environmental issues using historic drawing methods; primarily exploring the dichotomous forces of nature, from its staggering beauty to its extreme dangers. While realistically rendered, my drawings alter and merge different species in my immediate environment––the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. Our area is becoming more jungle-like as tropical flora and fauna moves north. We are seeing more destructive storms, strange fauna (armadillos!), invasive insects and plants.

In 2009, we lost over 3000 trees in a Derecho leaving massive visual and environmental scars. Seeing so many fallen and shredded trees made me more aware of their height and weight. (One crushed my car.) For several years, replicating their huge scale was a major factor in my work. “Revolving,” (46-feet-long), is a life-size falling tree that cycles through the seasons of the year before returning to the earth. (On view at the Sheldon Galleries March 4-May 13.) After spending years drawing large-scale trees, I turned to a series of “Cross-Section” drawings. Using the circular format of “Revolving,” these works concentrate on the pattern and flow of various barks.  My recent work embeds trees with the means to protect themselves against man, insects, and disease. (See “Cross-Section: Armed” and “Water Locust: Lichen Eradication.”)


Mel Watkin’s work has been shown nationally with solo exhibitions at Franklin Furnace Archives, New York, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, and the Addison/Ripley Gallery, Washington, D.C.  Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the American University Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan and Longue Vue House and Garden, New Orleans. Watkin’s 2021-2022 exhibitions include Revolving at the Sheldon Art Galleries, Saint Louis, Trees Bark Series at the Kranzberg Foundation for the Arts, Saint Louis and Along the Rivers at the Saint Louis Art Museum. The Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago commissioned her to create two map-based works in 2020 and in 2021. She also created 8 small works on paper for the Southern Illinois Healthcare Cancer Institute.  Her work can be found in the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Illinois State Museum, and the Book Art Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among other venues. In 2010, Watkin created a permanent public artwork with Franz Meyer Glassworks of Munich, Germany for the “C” Concourse at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.  Grant awards include: Illinois Arts Council Project Grant, Critical Mass, St. Louis, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship, New York and Pyramid Atlantic, Maryland.  Watkin is the recipient of a 2022 Illinois Artists Fellowship awarded to “exceptional artists who have created a substantial body of work throughout their career and contributed to the foundation of Illinois creativity.”  She’s taught at the university level and held curatorial positions at the Washington Project for the Arts in Washington, D.C. (1984-1991), and the Forum for Contemporary Art/Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis (1992-2003). In 2004, she founded the Public Policy Research Center’s Photography Project at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, a community-based photography program.  In 2022 she serves as Artist-in-Residence for the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Illinois.