From COM to the de Young

December 13th, 2023 - 4:11pm

Person wearing dress, holding purse, and standing in front of framed art.Art possesses an incredible power to transform lives and for Melissa Parhm, a dedicated student at College of Marin (COM), it led to a remarkable journey. Her narrative is one of passion, dedication, and a willingness to explore new horizons. Melissa's artwork, Baby Blue, is featured in the prestigious de Young Museum, a testament to her talent and the profound impact that art education has had on her creative evolution.

Melissa’s journey at COM started when she decided to take a chance on a fine arts class. Little did she know that this decision would change her life forever. It was a fiber sculpture class taught by Carole Beadle, an artist and instructor renowned for sparking creativity in her students, that captured her interest. Returning to school at COM in 2020 allowed Melissa to broaden her horizons by exploring various artistic fields.

Reflecting on the experience, Melissa shares, "Carole can say three words to me, and my mind explodes with ideas. I go home, process, and find that I have created something entirely beyond what I could have ever thought up." This marked the beginning of a new chapter in Melissa's artistic journey.

Prior to her time at COM, Melissa had a background in classical painting, shaped by a strict European mentor. Carole's class offered her the freedom to explore new materials and ideas, igniting a passion for fiber sculpture. It was a medium that allowed her to blend traditional drawing and painting with a unique twist, resulting in art that was entirely her own.

Melissa's artistic journey didn’t stop with fiber sculpture. As her children grew older, Melissa decided to start taking courses in ceramics, sculpture, and art management at COM to refine her abilities and become well-versed in the arts. She dove headfirst into the world of art because she saw these classes as tools to explore her creativity via different art forms and expand her knowledge of the arts.

Throughout this artistic exploration, Melissa received valuable support from COM Counselor Rachel Klein, who was instrumental in her artistic growth. Rachel provided guidance and mentorship as she helped her navigate her higher education path.

Artwork titled Upturned Roots by Melissa ParhmThen came the de Young Open, a prestigious opportunity for Bay Area artists. In 2020, Melissa submitted her piece, Upturned Roots, and to her delight, it was accepted. It was a proud moment, considering that out of almost 16,000 applicants, fewer than 800 artists were chosen. The exhibition's success led to its return in 2023, and Melissa's work will once again be featured—this time the piece is Baby Blue.

Baby Blue is a response to her concerns about the environment and the balance of the elements. It is a tribute to beached whales and a plea for the health of our oceans and the creatures living in them. Melissa's work showcases the power of art to raise awareness and make a statement.

She views the de Young Museum as unique in that artists can submit their work for exhibitions without the need for personal connections or networking that many often rely on to secure

opportunities to feature their work. However, the selection process is solely based on the quality and merit of the artwork itself. Melissa advises fellow students aspiring to exhibit their work not to take rejections personally, as acceptance depends entirely on the curator's thematic vision for the art show.

Melissa continues to build her artistic skills and evolve by learning new styles and surrounding herself with people who inspire her. From traditional painting to fiber sculpture and ceramics, she has embraced it all. She has learned to adapt, take on new challenges, and trust her own artistic instincts.

“Every young person or older person must trust in who they are, and if they intend to create work that benefits others and the community they are a part of, their work in the world will be a success,” says Melissa. “Trust in themselves and their gifts, and the world will respond. Fear does not work—I have been exploring different career paths, and in my life, work comes to me mostly in ways I could not have fathomed.”

Melissa's journey speaks profoundly to the power of persistence, flexibility, and the belief that art—in all its forms—can make a difference. Melissa's fondest memory of her artistic journey goes back to her time in Italy, where she embarked on a profound exploration of fresco art. In this ancient mural painting technique, she used water to mix dry-powder pigment into fresh, wet lime plaster, essentially making it part of the wall itself. She was able to secure a scholarship that allowed her to further study fresco art in Italy, and this opened doors to an unforgettable experience. Alongside fellow artists, she embarked on the restoration of an underground church. This collaborative effort was a testament to the power of art to transcend boundaries and unite diverse individuals.

COM, with its diverse community of students, provides an ideal backdrop for such collaborations. Within her fiber sculpture class, Melissa learned the true essence of an artistic community, where individuals of varying backgrounds can come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Scientists, retirees, and young students all coalesced in a unique blend of experiences and perspectives.

Despite her silverpoint works and contributions to the de Young Museum being independent of her time at COM, Melissa emphasizes that they are rooted in her individual efforts and the cultivation of a unique technique—applying silver to hand-made prepared panels. Her drawing skills, she notes, were honed during her time in France under classical instruction. Expressing a desire to share her expertise, she aspires to teach this distinctive technique at the college level. As she navigates this career path, Melissa acknowledges the role of COM in expanding her creativity. The institution has facilitated exploration beyond her artistic comfort zone, delving into diverse areas of the arts, including architecture.

Melissa's story is a testament to the transformative power of art education and the opportunities that can arise from taking chances and pursuing one's passion. Having her artwork featured in the de Young Museum is not just a personal achievement; it is a celebration of the artist's spirit and a reminder that art has the power to change the world in its own unique way. Her journey serves as an inspiration to all aspiring artists, showing that with dedication and the right support, dreams can become a reality.

Person standing in front of an art exhibition wallSee Melissa’s piece Baby Blue, on view through January 7, 2024. Free admission on Saturdays. More information at: