Almost every year since 1977 I have carved a valentine for family and friends. The first was intended to serve as a poster for the Valentine’s Day Square Dance at our local grange in Vernonia, Oregon. Nancy cut newsprint into lace boarders for each notice posted.
We were married on Valentine’s Day in 1979. That year’s woodblock commemorates that grand event, held in my hometown of Chappaqua, New York. Thus was born a tradition of annual greetings, in lieu of a Christmas card, a review of the year. Though these prints record for the most part idiosyncratic personal memories, dreams and histories, en mass I hope they display our shared love and also the enthusiasm with which we share our work and play each year.
You will see in these images my work as a commercial artist, Nancy’s love of handwork and handcraft, May’s love of books and art, Leif’s youthful enthusiasm for baseball. I learned to cut woodblocks in Japan as a boy and am fond of and utilize decorative feints from Japanese graphic arts. You can also see inspirations from the illustrations of West African pulp novels from the sixties in the original dancing couples.
-Thomas Kirk Melvin
Tom is still digging through the old files to find the other prints, but here are the first two…
Lime Light Dance, 1978
Our Wedding Cake, 1979
Sent out as an invitation to our wedding Feb. 14 1979.
Whirling Contact Improvisation, 1980
“Love is inside out and upside down. Sometimes you’ll have just one hand on the ground.” ~Nancy Melvin
Our earliest community of friends in Chicago arose from contact improvisation jams and workshops. We met every Wednesday and Sunday: first at a tiny studio in Facets Multimedia, then the large floor of Moming, leading us to commit together to found intimate little Links Hall Studio in the late seventies.
East Indian symbol for love surrounding our home-made barrel stove.
Coldest Chicago winter on record. We gave the old black Valiant up for a new White Rabbit.
Tools of our trade, city worksites, the studio window and maybe a baby as we limbo to Columbian Cumbias on the turntable.
Driving to work, mate gourd and hot water held by Nancy, Tom holds May’s baby bottle to take with her when at the sitter, dropping Nancy off at the MCA, taking himself to the studio. Diaper changes and feedings mark the hours.
We moved that year to our bungalow at 2860. May unpacks her toys.
Having the second baby filled our hands for three years.
One plus one makes two, that’s us and 1990 was our 11th anniversary. Chicago between the Lake and Prairie, where we have settled.
Our 12th anniversary and both our wedding rings, it was the year of desert storm, a huge cicada hatch, a mouse invasion, rabbits and a raccoon foundling our house pets and all the boy toys.
15 years and love all around.
Suspension of icy air, or snowballs aloft: this image arose from a dream now forgotten save this depiction.
May as genie, drawing our year on her pottery, our feet atop planes and cars, Leif’s well-hit baseball speeds by beneath our noses. Here is the Astoria column, the gilded dome of Holy Trinity Cathedral, the fluted stacks of a Mississippi River boat, a vase of roses and more.
Deep snow traps the car on Orcas Island while visiting Grandma’s house via car ferry. Rabbits dig under our Chicago house but the dog helps us all push the car out.
It is the Chinese year of the Tiger, a wild ride, our 19th anniversary, we hold on tightly.
Two blue moons that year in January and in March; Leif digging us out on a very cold blue moon. My hand polishes my china plate, New Zealand slang for a loved one.
A millennial bang and our 21st anniversary.
Our silhouetted kiss on the surface of Lake Michigan as seen from on high in the clouds. Under our chins is the south end of the lake, the stacks of industry near our beloved Dunes. Cupid’s arrow marked with a 22 for our anniversary speedsOur silhouetted kiss on the surface of Lake Michigan as seen from on high in the clouds. Under our chins is the south end of the lake, the stacks of industry near our beloved Dunes. Cupid’s arrow marked with a 22 for our anniversary speeds toward home. toward home.
The year 2002, a palindrome year was our 23rd anniversary. Nancy and I here both dancing and suspended from a heart shaped hot air balloon. Cat lovers know how they are.
Palm trees from a Jacksonville, Florida job, May studying in college and Leif tossing baseballs in High School laden with backpack; we do a dance based upon Bob Halverson’s favorite domino game, chicken feet.
Truly person-to-person, the airways between Cape Girardeau, Missouri and our bungalow in Chicago were kept very busy while my crew and I painted the 18’ foot high by 1500’ long Mississippi River Tales Mural. Through the trompe l’oeil arches of this painting a sternwheeler steams by.
The Grand Teton was summitted, LaSalle Towers re-done with swing stage and Trinity Lutheran of Cape completed with boom lift. Back in River Park, beneath towering cottonwoods and their rustling heart shaped leaves, I walk the two dogs.
This year’s print was partly inspired by The Unparallel Adventures of One Hans Pfaall and his escape from creditors as told by Edgar Allen Poe, and also simply the lightness of our empty nest with both children in college. The old, well-used, gas-guzzling van was cut free this year. Our bungalow converted to a hot-air powered flying machine with aileron oars to steer by, providing lofty romantic views from the back porch. Soaring above the earth, the trajectories of my year’s travels demarked upon the continental United States, center of the print, can be seen through the vapor of lift off. Only our home’s footprint is left behind.
A strong wind blew in a living room window, shattering on the coffee table. Sweeping up the broken glass in a broken economy and then taking two cups of mate together on our 29th anniversary.
Wind-spun and counterbalanced with love on the blade of a windmill, cozy in our barrels, high above the Midwest. 30 year anniversary.
Serving up a tower of Blini, laden with chopped hardboiled eggs and smoked fish. Nancy pours melted butter. Tom tosses on the caviar. Every year we celebrate the Butter Festival, Maslinitsa, with a big party the day before Lent starts.
Tom plucks a rose from the Milliken mansion ceiling he restored, for Nancy who is crossing guard for her Waldorf charges, watching May’s chicken’s cross the road. We both lost our mothers that year so their final favorite views in the heart shaped insets: for Sis Melvin the dock on Williams pond in Wellfleet and for Lolly Halverson the view from her Orcas Island home looking down on the Puget Sound.
The Little Prince’s Asteroid passed nearby this Valentine’s Day. It illuminates the scene as does the searchlight atop the massive Manufacturers’ Building seen through statuary. One of the statues is moved to let loose cupid’s arrow. Six murals in progress at the studio during the winter of 2012 for Walsh Construction all concern the World Columbian Exposition. I spent a lot of time imagining myself walking around the Fair.
Nancy’s hand spins a ball winder of her plant dyed yarn from her swift that all turns the ferris wheel Tom is painting.
Photo by May Melvin
Tom and Nancy with the first Valentine hanging between them in an oval frame decorated with hand cut crepe-paper lace. Showing them in the Café at the heart of Lincoln Square makes it possible to sit and live with the prints, much like at home.