The Block Island Times

A passion for art: Marye-Kelley opens

Located on Dodge Street
By Olivia Simon | Jul 17, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Bill Kelley and Melinda Marye-Kelley pose inside the new shop on Dodge Street.

You may already be familiar with Melinda Marye-Kelley’s decoupage work. But what has still been left undiscovered is how and why she decided to pursue the art of decoupage and open her own store that is named, appropriately enough, Marye-Kelley.

In 1990, Melinda came to visit Block Island with her husband, Bill. She decided to quit her job and live on the island for a while to see what it had to offer. Bill has always had a passion for boats and building things, so while on the island he built his own furniture, while Melinda painted it in bright colors and experimented with different designs.

When Melinda returned home to Houston, Texas, she visited her aunt, who owned a design shop.

“My aunt was selling decoupage plates that I was fascinated by,” she said. “Later on, I went to my mom and asked if she had any magazines to cut up because I wanted to make some of the plates that my aunt had made.”

The very first page of the first magazine Melinda opened contained a spread on a man who made patriotic decoupage plates. The article outlined the whole process on how to make the plates, and that was the moment that Melinda knew the world of art and decoupage was where she needed to be.

She began to make plates, which she gave to her family members and friends for Christmas. She had the opportunity to go to an art show where she sold her plates and creations for the first time, and then took her plates to a few stores to be sold. In 1991, she made decoupage plates all spring and then brought them to the Scarlet Begonia — which used to be owned by Molly O’Neill — on Block Island to sell during the summer.

“Molly owned the Scarlet Begonia for 28 years and sold a tremendous amount of my decoupage. It was the beginning of a great friendship and an incredible business relationship,” Melinda said. “It was because of her encouragement and support that I went to the New York gift show to see what it was like.” Melinda accompanied Molly at the New York gift show to help her out; Molly introduced Melinda to a woman who wanted them both to be a part of her booth at the show. Melinda states, “The whole business took off at the Scarlet Begonia, even though I had started making the plates back in Houston.”

In 1993, Melinda and Bill joined the Farmer’s Market. Melinda began to sell her decoupage, and Bill sold his own art: nautical scenes painted in watercolors. Around 1995, Melinda and Bill returned home to Texas, where Melinda attended a Houston country club show at Christmastime. Melinda describes, “I found that I could balance these retail holiday shows with the summer tourist business on Block Island.”

This summer, Molly O’Neill decided not to open the Scarlet Begonia. At first, Melinda worried that there would be no way to sell her artwork over the summer, because she had always sold her decoupage at Molly’s store. However, Melinda and Bill are now leasing the very space where the Scarlet Begonia used to be, 233 Dodge Street.

Melinda remembers, “We leased the space, got it painted, redid the floor, and opened on Memorial Day weekend.”

Decoupage uses layered paper, paint, and varnish to decorate an object. In terms of Melinda’s process, she started off by simply cutting up wrapping paper and wallpaper and gluing the pieces onto the plates. Now, however, she has developed a specific process that she goes through to shape her work to perfection.

“We glue everything on the item and use three layers for a crackle finish. Then we put on seven layers of polyurethane, and then it has a water-based finish so that the decoupage is protected,” she said. “The glass items go through the same process, but reversed. Since the top is glass, the varnish goes on the back.”

Melinda’s items consist of many different pieces. Though the most popular are the plates with the map of Block Island printed on them, Melinda also sells picture frames, coasters, tissue boxes, Lucite trays, and ice buckets. “A man makes the trays and ice buckets, and we print our designs on them. We print all of our own paper,” Melinda said. Not only are Melinda’s pieces sold in the store, but her husband Bill and her daughter Ruby also sell their own art.

“We sell my decoupage, Bill’s watercolors, and earrings that Ruby makes. We also sell original pen and ink drawings printed in different patterns in the shape of Block Island, which are made by Molly’s daughter, Grace,” Melinda explains. She has a great respect for her husband’s artwork and his creativity: “His watercolor sailboats are very whimsical. He makes the frames himself out of driftwood and old, salvage boat wood, so that the wood is reused instead of just thrown out. Bill has been an amazing help with the decoupage. When I go off island to do a show in the winter, he stays at the store to hold down the fort, and makes sure everything runs smoothly.”

Melinda has an amazing passion for art, specifically her decoupage, and she kept working hard until she achieved the goal of selling her own work and even opening her own store, with the help of her family. She wants to make other people happy with the art that she makes.

“My favorite things are the custom plates because they are all unique and one-of-a-kind. It is a keepsake that they will have forever. We even keep a database for the wedding plates and birth announcement plates to make sure each plate we make is different from the others.” The items that Melinda makes, all handmade, are great additions to a winter or summer home and can also make perfect gifts for a family member or friend.

Melinda’s art is available in other stores, not just her own, and on her website:

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