Jacksonville Artist Wears Many Hats

Carol Rolf/Contributing Photographer

Melissa “Mo” Lashbrook said this piece of art, Redecorating With Irene, was inspired by her great-aunt and made from a large stack of curtains found in her belongings after she died. “My goal was to take this unwanted material/sad experience and build something beautiful out of it,” Lashbrook said.

Melissa “Mo” Lashbrook of Jacksonville wears many hats in life — daughter, wife, mother, teacher, world traveler, artist — and veteran.

These roles are all connected. She said she has found a way to express these connections through her art.

“As an artist, I constantly collect ideas and objects,” she said. “If I am not making, I am thinking about making. It is through creating art that I feel most alive … excited, frustrated, confused, certain, scared and safe.

“Each piece is unique, deeply emotional and a part of me,” she said. “It is through art that I have come to terms with loss, ponder life’s big questions and find transcendence.”

Samples of her artwork related to this transcendence are currently on display at the Argenta Branch of the William F. Laman Public Library System, 402 Main St. in North Little Rock.

Lashbrook, who describes herself as an “assemblage artist,” has several pieces of her large-scale sculptures in the exhibit, The Nature of Transcendence, which will remain on display until March 9. Her work in the two-woman show is paired with that of Cindy Wiseman of Fayetteville.

“My motivation for creating work is to construct meaning … through making connections, curating an experience, etc. After I experienced a loved one slowly deteriorate from Alzheimer’s, I felt a need to preserve. Art was a way to curate perishable memories, feelings and connections in a tangible form,” Lashbrook said.

“Since the birth of my children, my work has shifted from preserving connections to the past to exploring connections with the present and future,” she said.

“This collection explores life cycles by using pain and suffering as a source for new beginnings/redemption,” Lashbrook said. “Assembling man-made and perishable materials is my way of connecting the past, present and future and acknowledging change. The act of collecting and fitting things together is a constant life cycle. It is through these cycles I build and rebuild understanding, appreciation and connection — and ultimately find wholeness.”

Lashbrook grew up in the small town of Arkansas City in southern Arkansas, the daughter of Mona Averett, who now lives in Dermott, and Danny Bryant, who now lives in Morrilton. Although Lashbrook said she had no formal training in art until she went to college, she was always making things for her room.

“I remember I made my room into a museum space and charged 50 cents admission,” she said with a laugh.

“My mom was always making things and decorating,” Lashbrook said. “My dad was always building and inventing things, although he was not focused on aesthetics.”

Lashbrook graduated from Arkansas City High School in 1998.

“I graduated in the Top 10,” she said, adding, “in a class of 10.”

Lashbrook, 36, joined the Arkansas Army National Guard when she was 17 and a junior in high school.

“I enlisted as a truck driver,” she said. “I was inspired by the guardsmen who assisted my small town during an ice storm. They spent their days working extremely hard to take care of total strangers, and then they would gather for a home-cooked meal at our house and play cards. The selfless service and camaraderie really intrigued me, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

She attended boot camp after high school graduation and did not start classes at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway until spring 1999.

“I just stumbled upon art once I got to UCA,” she said. She graduated from UCA with a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine art in 2003 and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2013.

“After starting college at UCA, I decided that I wanted to fly helicopters. The best way to do this was join ROTC to become an officer and go to flight school, so that’s what I did,” Lashbrook said.

“Soon after graduating flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, I deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a pilot and platoon leader,” she said.

She was deployed from March 2006 to August 2007, with the first five months spent in pre-deployment training at Fort Hood, Texas, and was then in Iraq from August 2006 to August 2007.

“Once I returned home, I worked full time as a training officer for an aviation battalion [in North Little Rock]. After the birth of my son, I knew I wanted to change career paths, so I went back to school at night and earned my master’s degree in teaching at UCA,” she said.

“After the birth of my daughter and the end of my flight-school commitment, I transitioned to an elementary art teacher,” Lashbrook said, adding that she received an honorable discharge in 2011.

“I was in the military a total of 13 years — started as private and ended as a captain,” she said. “Art was always a part of my life. Even while deployed, I would spend my downtime collecting materials like the cardboard from water pallets to paint on.”

Lashbrook said that while she was in college, she was “able to participate in many study-abroad experiences, but none as fantastic as the Institute for Shipboard Education Semester at Sea program.

“Semester at Sea is a global study-abroad program,” she said. “I spent a semester of college onboard a retired cruise ship that traveled around the world and docked at countries for field experiences and travel. I was able to visit Japan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil and Cuba. “The ship’s population consisted of students, faculty and staff from around the world,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience that I hope my children will one day get to participate in.”

Lashbrook and her husband, Jeremy, were married in 2004. They have two children: Gus, 6, and Ava Jane, 4.

“Gus is one of my students, and Ava Jane will be next year,” said Lashbrook, who now teaches art at Southside and Northside elementary schools in Cabot.

Lashbrook has exhibited her artwork in several group exhibitions, including those at the Texarkana Regional Arts Center, the Batesville Area Arts Council Gallery on Main, Gallery 360 in Little Rock, Emergent Arts in Hot Springs and the Baum Gallery of Fine Art at UCA in Conway. Her artwork is also in many private residences.

The Nature of Transcendence exhibit is free and open to the public. The Argenta Branch Library is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. The library is closed on Sunday. Rachel Trusty of Russellville is curator for the William F. Laman Public Library System.

Call (501) 687-1061 for more information.