Of the nearly ninety artists on this year's Orange County Artists Guild's Open Studio Tour, Eli Melet is the only one forced to squeeze art-making in among high school classes.
Melet, a fourteen-year-old freshman at Chapel Hill High School, is the youngest member of the guild. Yet his age isn't the only thing that sets him apart from the other members. While he does employ traditional materials, like acrylics and oils, he also enjoys working with the demonstrably untraditional medium of eggshells.
Melet got the idea after he came across an online video demonstrating various ways of creating texture, which gave him the idea of incorporating the thin-shelled ovum of the domestic fowl. Melet made a series of paintings featuring cracked eggshells, some pulverized in small flaky specks, others retaining their natural domed shape. But these are nothing like Easter eggs. Melet affixes the fractured shells—donated by Elmo's Diner in Carrboro—to a canvas and paints over them, usually using a single color for each one. The result plays on color, along with how color is affected by texture.
"I don't even like eggs," Melet says with a laugh.
His eggshell series is just one way Melet plays with texture. "In my landscapes, I use an acrylic model paste," he says. "You get a different perspective based on where you look from."
Melet has been a frequent visitor to the guild's long-running annual tour, which continues this weekend. For as long as he can remember, his mother has taken him around to tour the artists' home galleries. But less than a year ago, after taking a private class in landscape painting, Melet joined the guild. And now he is on the tour map himself, in studio twenty-nine.
Gaining membership in the guild is no small thing. Applicants must provide an artist statement and submit to a confidential jury review of their work. According to guild president Judith Ernst, the main criteria under consideration are competence, confidence, and commitment. Ernst, who was not on the jury that reviewed Melet, says that age is not a factor.
"Nothing in the bylaws sets limits on age," she says. "Eli has shown some real individuality and commitment, and has had exhibitions."
Tour visitors have an opportunity to see Melet's work and meet him in his home this weekend. More than two dozen pieces will be for sale, but there are some that are just for show. "Some pieces I've been sad to let go," Melet says. "There are a few landscapes I won't be selling."
The next time you have an omelette at Elmo's Diner, consider whether your breakfast might become a future work of art.