Because a Dozen Passions Is Better Than One

When artist Melissa Flattery left the “self-imposed cage” of her former career, she couldn’t be confined to one mode of artistic expression. Behind the carved eggs is the alcohol-ink painting Tribute to Jeong Kwan.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Some artists nestle themselves into a tight niche, content to focus on one medium. But then there’s Melissa Flattery. 

A U.S. Air Force veteran, Flattery spent 20 years working as an information-management and personnel officer, including in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The experience was many things — “challenging, overwhelming, gratifying, heartbreaking, excruciating, exciting, and stressful.” 

The artist, at home in Burnsville, has whittled her working mediums down to a mere dozen.
Photo by Colby Rabon

However, it was not in the least bit artistic. 

“Through it all, I had a persistent longing to be creative,” the Colorado native tells Asheville Made. “I truly believe that the stress of trying to succeed in a world where I couldn’t express myself artistically led to both my breast cancer, discovered in 1998, and thyroid cancer in 2013.” 

And so, when Flattery finally retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2012, she crawled out of that “self-imposed cage” and started making stuff — lots and lots of stuff. 

Tell Your Doctor if You’ve Been Somewhere Fungal Infections Are Common

She covered canvases with watercolors, alcohol ink, and acrylic paint; she toyed with resin and metal leaf; she embellished cigar boxes with decorative paper; she carved goose, rhea, emu, and ostrich eggs; she made bespoke jewelry using antique pocket watches and gemstones; she pieced together mosaic bowls; and she crafted abstract sculptures with paper quilling. Simply put, Flattery embraced her new life as an interdisciplinary artist. 

“I’ve explored a multitude of media and artistic styles and prefer to work in about a dozen,” she notes. “I can’t just create the same work or type of work over and over.”


Flattery’s home studio in Burnsville — a mountain town she and her husband discovered during an eight-month-long road trip in 2022 — reflects her propensity to multitask. The space is vast, encompassing multiple workstations equipped with more than 300 drawers stuffed with art supplies. 

It’s here that Flattery channels her “creative impulses” into six or more projects at once. Recent endeavors range from “Tell Your Doctor if You’ve Been Somewhere Fungal Infections Are Common” — an alcohol-ink and resin piece inspired by a “particularly annoying advertisement” — to “They Speak in Silence,” an abstract wall hanging made using resin and paint chips. 

Why? is the carved egg of a Rhea bird with a crystal base.
Photo by Colby Rabon

These pieces are driven by Flattery’s desire to push art further — to “see how I can combine one medium with another and come up with something original and interesting.” 

Flattery recognizes that her approach isn’t for everyone. “Critics might argue that I lack focus and cohesiveness because I work in several areas,” she says, sounding unconcerned. 

Somewhere Down the Crazy River
Photo by Colby Rabon

For her, the creative chaos is a welcome change from the claustrophobic discipline of her military career.

Cairn I
Photo by Colby Rabon

“I would argue that my overall style and focus comes from this exact joy of embracing diversity,” says Flattery. “It’s the freedom I have been seeking my entire life.”

Melissa Flattery, Flattery Fine Art, Burnsville, and on Instagram @melissa.l.flattery. The artist’s work can be seen in her home gallery and at Carriage House Sundries (7 South Main St., Burnsville, Flattery offers tours of her home studio and gallery by appointment, or 703-853-6881.

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1 Comment

  1. says: MarLynn Larsen

    Absolutely fabulous! I love the clever titles of your pieces as well. Looking forward to touring your studio as soon as I can get there!

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