1932 - 1995
James Melvin Someroski was born in Piney Fork, Ohio on March 13, 1932. He graduated valedictorian of Mt. Pleasant High School. He began studying art at the Oglebay Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia during high school and went on to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art with artists such as Kenneth Bates, Charles Mosgo, Paul Travis and Peter Paul Dabniewicz.
In 1952, he studied painting at the Cape School of Art in Provincetown, Massachussetts and in 1954, Mel received a diploma in Ceramics from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He then graduated in 1955 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Kent University the following year. Between 1955 and 1956, Mel traveled Europe and did an independent study for his portfolio after receiving the Agnes Gund Memorial Scholarship.
Between 1953 and 1958, Mel worked as a freelance designer for Brookpark International, creating the first line of color decorated melamine dinnerware, for which he received an award for Good Design from the Canadian Design Center in Toronto.
In 1956, Mel joined the Kent State University faculty as a professor of Art and taught drawing, design, ceramics, weaving, jewelry, and perspective life drawing. He worked to establish courses in crafts, particularly enameling and taught the university’s first jewelry class in 1958. He tirelessly worked to establish new courses in the department and help expend crafts programs at Kent State during his time as faculty. In his early years at the university, Mel wrote and directed experimental films for the School of Art and was the manager for the Film Classics Series. He directed the School’s Fine Arts Festival in 1962, and was appointed Director of Exhibitions at the E. Turner Stump Theater Gallery at the University.
A passionate student and teacher, Mel continued his studies in ceramic, sculpture, and weaving at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. While teaching at Kent, he pursued a Master’s degree in Sculpture from the university, which he completed in 1961. A year later, he was practicing lithography at the Akron Art Institute.
During the summer of 1969, he became Acting Director of the School of Art, at the Kent campus.
Mel spent several summers teaching workshops at the Penland School of Crafts, and studying with artists such as Jane Brown. He also taught at the Anderson Ranch in Aspen, Colorado and the Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
During the fall of 1966, Mel traveled to Sri Lanka through a grant from the State Department Educational and Cultural Exchange program and began teaching at the Government College of Arts and Crafts in Colombo, Ceylon. While he was there, he also established weaving workshops in Henewalla and Wadduwa. He notabl worked with the Dumbara mat weavers, formerly known as the weavers to the Kandian kings of Sri Lanka and documented their weaving methods on 16mm color film. He was later invited by Gyalmo of Sikkim (also known as Hope Cook) to work in the Cottage Industries Institute in Gangtok, Sikkim and documented the weaving traditions of the country on film.
He volunteered for summer work in the paramedical group Amigos De Las Americas and served in Nicaragua in the Matagalpha area and in Columbia on the remote Rio Vaupes in the Amazon Basin.
After that summer, Mel established craft-study tours through Kent State University in Central and South America for several years.
In 1969, Mel was invited as a guest instructor at the Penland School of Handicrafts in North Carolina. By May 1969, he became the Acting Chairman of the School of Art at Kent University.
In May 1971, Mel took a sabbatical leave to conduct weaving workshops at the Paldun Thondup Cottage Industries Institute in Gangtok, Sikkum and develop a collection of hanna fibre wall hangings.
In 1971 and 1972, Mel returned as a guest instructor at the Penland School of Art, and also became a guest artist at the Salve Regina College in Newport and the School of Chicago Art Institute.
In 1973, Mel briefly taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he developed his first work in fiber performance with one of his classes. The workshop led to a 1975 Blossom-Kent art program in fiber performance with guest artists Theodore Hallman and Connie May. During that time, Mel co-founded with Connie May, assistant professor of danse at Michigan School of the Arts, the Fibre Performance Ensemble, which has primarily been a student organization dedicated to the study of performance art and the creation of original works using the body of the artist as media.
Fibre later became an evolving experiment to bring together the visual arts with movement, sound, and the written/spoken word, as well as film. Some of the works have been performed widely in the U.S. as well as in Japan, Poland and Austria. Fibre works have received the support of the Ohio Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, and others. Fibre works were seen in Japan with support from the Japan-United States friendship Committee and the World Crafts Council and in Poland by invitation and support from the Central Museum of Textiles in Lodz, the Studio Gallery in Warszawa, the Grazina hase Gallery in Warszawa, the Pracownia Dziekanka in Warszawa and the Repassage Gallery in Warszawa. Fibre works were created by invitation for the international textile exhibition textilkunst, Linz ’81 in Austria at Schloss Parz.
In 1975, he received another grant from the U.S. Educational and Cultural Exchange Program in order to rewrite the standard sillabi for the public school system and Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). There, Mel taught at the Government College of Arts and primarily worked in Gangtok, Sikkim. While in Ceylon, Mel worked as a crafts consultant in weaving at the Paldun Thondup Cottage Industries Institue in Gangtok, by invitation from Gyalmo of Sikkim, formerly known as Hope Cook. He also established weaving workshops in Henewalla and Wadduwa Sri Lanka to create wall hangings of pan grass and hemp, and worked with the Dumbara mat weavers (formerly known as the weavers to the Kandian Kings of Sri Lanka).
Between 1977 and 1978, Mel received the Japan-United States Friendship Committee Travel Grant and traveled to Japan as the co-director of the Fiber Arts Program for the Conference of the World Crafts Council in Kyoto.
In 1980, Mel spent a year in Poland as a guest lecturer at the University of Warsaw and he visited the Treblinka and Majdanek concentration camps, which deeply influenced him for his later works. His pieces in performance and enamel from that point on acted primarily as a mean to remember the victims, especially through his performance piece “Majdanek: A Memorial for Those Who Suffered and Those Who Died There” and his last enamel series “Children of War.” Some of the works remain unfinished and were never exhibited publically. He developed a performance piece titled “Majdanek: A Memorial to Those Who Suffered and Those Who Died There,” which was presented twice at the Cleveland Public Theater and at the Cleveland Junkstock Festival. Part of the Children of War series can be found in Jesse Bryant Wilder’s Art History for Dummies.
1984: Mel’s Barbershop. Stonington Deer Isle, Maine.
That year, also received the Achievement Award of the Ohio Designer Craftsmen Organization.
1988 was a notable year for Mel. He curated and wrote the catalog or “The Cleveland Enamelists – 1930-1955,” and went on to receive the Kent State University Alumni Association and the Kent State University Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award. He was also invited as a guest artist at the Ferro Corporation in Cleveland, Ohio and became the coordinator of the Large Scale Enameling Outreach Program at Kent State University. His collaboration with the Ferro Corporation resulted in the donation of a 20-foot long kiln for large enamels to the university, which helped to expend the scale and potential for enameling students. “There’s a possibility of cooperation with painters, interior designers and architects—possibly workshops and residences with professionals. We are very hopeful that it will have meaning beyond the immediate classroom.”
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)