She Sculpts the Change She Wants to See in the World

Her Responsibilities

“I am troubled by our disregard for our planet,” says Melisa Cadell. Through the voice of her art, Cadell gives us stirring images intended to shake us from our complacency.

Cadell was gifted a childhood that served her artistic expression. She says her mother was an accomplished painter who taught her the importance of having a tenacity for questions. “Especially the ones with no distinct answers,” says Cadell. “I admired her way of thinking and her sense of social justice.”

Melisa Cadell is a social-justice sculptor. Portrait by Jack Sorokin

Meanwhile, she grew up in her father’s painting and sculpting studios, and later his bronze foundry. “I remember always being fascinated by process. Experimentation with materials and what they could do was the best type of play.”

When she was about 12, she began helping him in his foundry, and continued working there in the wax room, making small molds until she was in her mid-twenties. Cadell says he taught her by example that ingenuity is crucial, and that possibilities should outweigh self-doubt.

Since receiving her MFA from East Tennessee State University, Cadell has spent much of her life teaching others while maintaining her creative pursuits. And yet, “I have never seen it as a career,” she says. “I love it and it feeds my work … but I have always seen myself as a career artist who teaches.”

She admits to being jealous about the time teaching takes from her studio hours, but Cadell adds, “it’s important to know I’m helping others discover the selves they do not yet realize. As a society, we throw too many individuals away.”

Top Left: Embrace, Top Right: Drawn Imagery on Clay, Bottom Left: Dressing Up, Bottom Right: Under Water with Her Thoughts

The arc of her own art, which began with mostly paintings and drawings, bent toward clay when she moved to North Carolina in 1997, and after she went through a divorce. Today, she uses sculpture to shape her own worldview. A current installation centers around the impact plastics are having on our world. At the same time, she’s developing individual works (ranging from tea vessels to figurative sculpture) that relate to the mass migration of people in the world due to displacement caused by war, violence, and poverty. She wants us to “pause and mindfully consider” what’s happening around us.

“The duty of the artist,” as she sees it, “is to put a magnifying glass on the subject matter and offer a time for critical examination. I want generations from now to experience the beauty of our oceans, mountains, and prairies, to be able to experience the peace one can find in those wild and natural places.

“I’m in awe of what’s happening in many fields of study … but I wonder if we have the ability to discern how to use the technology we have developed.”

Photo by Jack Sorokin

Melisa Cadell, Loafers Glory, Mitchell County; studio visits by appointment. Cadell’s sculptures can be seen at In Tandem Gallery (20 North Mitchell Ave., Bakersville, 828-688-6428, and online at

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  1. says: Bob

    Thank you for the article. Melisa’s work has always caused me to pause. The creative thought, the social statements (often escaping me), and the beauty of her ability to express it with her talent.

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