By Donna Parker
“It’s all fun to me!”
That’s Santa Fe artist Melissa Brownell ’64, never one to miss an exciting opportunity. This talented painter and ceramic molder just finished her first book, “The Gypsy Watchers.” Patrons in her art gallery requested the story behind a series of her works featuring gypsies, so she wrote an historical novel.
“Coleen Grissom, department of English, just asked me to send her a copy of my book and I almost fainted! I’m anxious to hear back, whether her comments are good or bad,” exclaims this vibrant author and artist.
Coleen was actually the sorority sponsor of Gamma Chi Delta and Melissa was in the very first pledge class. She enjoyed her Gamma time immensely and remains friends with her “sisters,” but she was never far from her creative side.
“I always knew I was destined to be an artist because I’m totally right-brained and everything I do is visual. Elizabeth Ridenhower and Bill Bristow, both of the department of art, and Don Everett, department of history, were my professors and the people in my college world with whom I spent most of my time.”
Melissa, who grew up on the East Coast, found out about Trinity while working at a summer resort in Maine and John Abbott, former Trinity University librarian whose family summered there, told her about this “great school” in Texas. When Melissa was accepted at Trinity in the ’60s, she wondered whether she’d find horses tied up to the hitching post, having just seen John Wayne’s, “The Alamo.”
“At that time, the airport was one small building with one wind sock and I’ll never forget flying into the heat and humidity. It was a bit of a culture shock, though I loved that the guys wore blue jeans and boots to class!”
Melissa says rearing her three “accomplished and strikingly beautiful” daughters has been the greatest achievement of her life, even though in her former professional life she worked for John Cosgrove, press secretary to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. As such, she spent time with such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor (beautiful lavender eyes), Bob Hope, Billy Graham (finally, someone taller) and Imelda Marcos and was in charge of the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree.
“That job was exciting, but my brass ring was a successful painting career, which is how I ended up in Santa Fe, pursuing my art and opening a gallery called Ashleith Collections with my husband, Fred. We have no intention of retiring until we’re in our 90s.”
Meanwhile, they enjoy life in their eco-friendly straw bale house, which is “warm in the winter and cool in the summer.” Melissa was just nominated to the board of the New Mexico Vine and Wine Society. In addition, she takes tango lessons weekly and enjoys spending time with her two young grandsons who live very close.
“Life is good and I’m lucky to have lived an extraordinary life.”