Last month's Southern Festival of Books featured the debut of a brand-new local publishing concern—Anne Brown, proprietor of The Arts Company, one of Nashville's most revered and enduring galleries, christened The Arts Company Press with the release of Brother Mel: A Lifetime of Making Art.
Written by Brown herself, Brother Mel chronicles the life and work of the popular St. Louis artist and monk, who's been making regular pilgrimages to Brown's gallery for nearly a decade.
"I've worked with him for a long time," says Brown, explaining her motivation for the book. "He's just done so much work, but there is little known about him."
The first half of Brother Mel presents the man and his work, both as an artist and a Catholic brother. Mel Meyer became Brother Mel when he joined the Marianist order in 1948. Well-educated (he got a master's in fine art from Notre Dame) and well-traveled (he studied and traveled extensively in Europe), Mel became the first Marianist to take on art as a vocation, in the late 1960s. His constantly evolving technique has included countless combinations of watercolor, oil painting, metal sculpture and various other media, utilized to create both abstract and figurative work. To date, Brother Mel has produced over 10,000 documented works of art, not including his public and private commissions. Along the way, he's refused to draw a definitive line between his religious calling and his artistic inspiration, a theme that runs throughout Brown's account of the artist's life.
The second half of the book presents a selected Brother Mel portfolio, pulled from more than 50 years of creativity.
As an author, Brown brings significant talents and education to the table as well. Nashvillians who know her only as the owner and manager of The Arts Company might be surprised to learn that she has a master's in English and history from East Texas State University and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Arkansas. And she's no newcomer to the book-authoring game. She penned The Art of Doug Williams: Salvation and Beauty in 2002.
"I love to write," she says. "I really do love to do this."
In addition to her excitement about the book, Brown has a sense of mission as well. "I feel like I have been a voice for him," she explains. "And for the people who love his work."
A handsome volume filled with vibrant images, Brother Mel signals a promising future for The Arts Company Press. Creating the new company was an easy decision for Brown, who recognized the benefits of a DIY approach.
"Why wait for a big publisher?" she asks. "I've got Ingram distribution. I've got [RR] Donnelley printing it. I mean, these guys are the biggest."
Ultimately, though, it's the way that the monk's religious calling meshes with his single-minded devotion to his art that served as Brown's real inspiration.
"There's an idea in Brother Mel's life," she explains. "There is a narrative in it. His life matters. His art matters."
Brother Mel and Anne Brown will sign copies of the book 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at The Arts Company.
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Wonderful! We're hoping Knoxville puts something like this together, too. It's a fantastic concept!!