Melonie Collins and her partner Jared Stegemann joined me for a cup of coffee, with two littles in tow. I introduced myself to the two adults, and was met with a warmness from these now non-strangers.
Both smiled as I cracked my typical nervous-tension-breaking jokes, which led into her taking a moment to compose her thoughts about how she wanted to share her story. I waited, ready to listen, admiring her purple eyeshadow. As an emerging artist, Melonie Collins is just at the beginning of her creative body of work as Mystic Acrylics. However, this isn’t where her journey starts.
At nine-years-old, Melonie had developed a brain tumor. No less a terrifying experience, especially at a young age. She, of course, survived, but this wasn’t as simple as returning to life before the growth. The pressure from the tumor was pushing onto her optic nerve, which was the start of visual impairment. This experience left her legally blind.
This alone caused challenges for daily life activities, but she didn’t let that stop her from trying artistic pursuits. “In my teens, I wanted to have some sort of creative outlet. I wrote a lot of poetry. I never thought I could do any visual art.”
Unfortunately, a (now former) romantic partner took advantage of her disability. “He was very controlling. Everything I did, he questioned. If I tried to draw, he would just make fun of me for even trying. It was emotional abuse. I can’t drive, so I felt trapped in my home and emotionally. I was so depressed.”
With some strength, she was able to escape the claws of that relationship. Her young son, Levi, was the first reason she knew she had to move on. Levi is a smart kid but had difficulty learning how to speak compared to his peers. He just could not communicate the same way, and it wasn’t until he received a diagnosis that doors opened for him. Levi has autism. “He’s a special boy, and I’m proud to be his mom and a voice to the community,” says Melonie. With the help of therapy, it’s made a world of difference for both of them.
Melonie was still feeling broken down, and she needed to know who she was independent of that situation. Enter Jared.
“He was, well, is, so different from my ex. He encouraged me instead of bringing me down. He helped me to find healing and supported me in exploring my confidence as I built it back up.” Her entire circle of people has changed, including the addition of daughter Ellie. Melonie says that people can barely recognize her through this transformation.
“I do my own makeup now. My friends have done it for me before, and I just memorized how it felt as they used the brushes on my face. I love wearing it,” she beamed.
Jared, also an artist, helped her to feel like she could get back into it. Melonie has been creating flow art through acrylic pouring for about 6 months. “It was actually Jared’s dad and step-mom who gave us the supplies. They used to do it and had stopped, so they handed it down to us.” Once figuring out the process, everything clicked for Melonie.
“It’s a creative outlet for my emotions. You can tell so much and express it through the colors that you use,” Melonie explained.
It’s definitely working for her. She has been featured in the gallery at the Honeywell Center, and is closing a show at 816 Pint N Slice. “What’s amazing to me is that these places reached out to me, not the other way around. I hadn’t even considered that I would have an art show one day! I was just creating because it was healing me.”
Now, she looks forward to continuing to display her work as opportunities come up. She currently takes commissions and hopes to host how-to workshops in acrylic pouring in the future. That is the next step in her journey, and those next steps are critical to growth.
“I wanted to share my story, because I wanted to let others know they can do what I did. You’re strong enough to get out of whatever you’re dealing with, and you really can find yourself through art.”
Written by: Rachelle Reinking: