Mellany Lee is ‘resident artist’ at nursing center

Published 12:13 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Lifelong artist Mellany McPhate Lee, who says she is inspired by old fashioned images, draws detailed pen and ink prints. Lee has been undergoing therapy at Adams County Nursing Center since July. Lee suffered a stroke in 2007, which left her unable to use her left side. She uses a clipboard to hold the paper, and her finished drawings hang in the nursing center’s dining room.

NATCHEZ — Mellany McPhate Lee, 50, is the “resident artist” at Adams County Nursing Center, and she doesn’t let physical challenges come between her pen and paper.

Lee, who said she has been an artist her whole life, suffered a stroke in 2007. Instead of letting her pens dry and pencils sit, she found a new way to express herself using the medium she knows.

“My mother said the first thing I ever picked up was a crayon,” Lee said. “I would hide coloring books under my bed, and get them out when she thought I was sleeping.”

Lee works on a drawing of a man at a well.

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Because Lee started developing her talent at an early age, by the time she entered college at LSU, the art professor told her, “I cannot improve on anything that God has already given you.”

Lee graduated with a degree in mass communications, but she still let her artwork do the talking — and the drawings scream detail.

“I like pen and ink,” Lee said. “You get more detail, and detail is what makes a picture. Chalk, pastels and watercolors are fun, but you can’t get the fine detail.”

Lee said she is inspired by old-fashioned images. Some are renderings of existing art and some she comes up with on her own.

“It was a simpler time of life,” Lee said. “It was a rough life, but elegant.”

Lee said her favorite piece is of a woman standing at a China cupboard.

“I sketch first with a No. 2 pencil,” Lee said. “Then I go back with a Pilot pen and do the detail work.”

Lee developed a new technique to pen her images since her left side was affected by the stroke. She simply uses a clipboard, and lets her right hand drift across the page.

A calf nurses on a mother cow.

“I’m very lucky (the stroke) only affected my left side. I have to look at it like — God closes one door, and he opens another,” Lee said.

Lee said artful ability runs in her family. Her grandmother was an artist, and her son, who lives in West Monroe, La., paints portraits. Lee said her granddaughter, Audrey, “has it too.”

Lee said part of the fun of being an artist is giving away her drawings as gifts.

“God gave me (this talent) as a blessing,” Lee said. “But I like to bless people by giving pictures. If you sell it, you’re taking the blessing away.”

Lee said she was also a keyboard, guitar player and singer before the stroke — when she had use of both her hands. She said her left side has no mobility, but she still feels everything.

Lee said before the stroke, she suffered from hypertension, but she nor her doctors were aware of it. It was in November of 2007 when she woke up at 3 a.m. feeling strange.

Lee’s favorite pen and ink drawing of a woman standing at a cupboard is displayed at the center.

“I was sluggish,” Lee said. “But I got up and went to work that day anyway. And then I started feeling worse that night.”

When the physical effects of the stroke took hold, and Lee lost her ability to make music, she turned to art full time.

“Art is a release for me,” she said.

Lee said most of her drawing at the center is done in the common areas, and residents like to watch her work.

“I don’t mind at all,” Lee said. “Maybe that’s why they call me the resident artist.”

Lee said Charles Martien, a resident at the center, told her he’s never seen such straight lines drawn without a ruler. The drawings, displayed in the dining room at the center, are posted for everyone to see.

“They remind me of when I was farming,” Martien said.

Lee said she has worked at newspapers, served as press secretary for a politician in Alaska for several years, and was involved in the Louisiana arts scene.

Lee, who has been at the center since July for therapy, said she is writing a book — a western novel, called “Rosa Ranchero,” set in the Nevada territory. She said it is about a family who settles there, and experiences many trials and tribulations.

“That’s what inspires me,” Lee said.