Meet the Speaker: Melissa Messina, Mildred Thompson Estate

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Melissa Messina, Curator, Mildred Thompson Estate

Melissa Messina, Curator, Mildred Thompson Estate

Searching for Mildred Thompson: An Artist’s Legacy Project
Thursday, July 21
Arkansas Arts Center Atrium
5:30 p.m. Wine Reception | 6 p.m. Lecture | 7-9 p.m.  Late Night 

As part of a Lecture & Late Night on Thursday, July 21, Melissa Messina, a seasoned arts professional and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, will discuss her curatorial venture to reclaim a lost figure of American abstraction, Mildred Thompson.

Read about Messina’s interest in Thompson’s life and works below, and then join us for her lecture this week! Stay after the lecture and tour the galleries, enjoy dinner at Best Impressions and shop in The Museum Shop. The Arkansas Arts Center will be open until 9 p.m. Free for members, $10 for nonmembers; seating is limited, reservations are required: 501.372.4000. 

How and when did you first become familiar with Mildred and her work?

My life changed the day I met Mildred Thompson. I had just bravely switched majors from a practical design degree to fine art ­­and began my studies at the Atlanta College of Art in 1997. I showed up on the first day and, due to a computer glitch, none of the courses I had registered for were in the system. The registrar, apologetic and feeling terribly for me, slotted me into Mildred’s drawing class “Making the Invisible Visible,” which I didn’t know at the time was quite hard to get into. Mildred used to say, “what you are looking for is looking for you,” so perhaps it was fate!

Mildred’s lectures and courses are the stuff of art school legend. I immediately fell in love with her – knowing even at my young age that she was ahead of her time and out of this world! I took every class she offered twice, even set up independent studies so I could continue my education with her. As her pupil and mentee it was very important for me to learn about her work as well.

How would you define your personal relationship with her?

Mildred became a friend and mentor, and I spent as much time as I could with her until her passing in 2003. She was a true educator. Her personality and ideas were magnetic and students young and old flocked to learn from her. I adored her and was grateful to be taken under her wing. She opened up my mind and creative practice in ways I am still discovering today.

For those unfamiliar with Mildred, what three words would you use to describe her works?

Unique, dynamic and expressive. Though words do not do the work justice, I will do my best to more fully describe it during my talk!

What is the ultimate goal of the Mildred Thompson Legacy Project?

The goal for the legacy project is to provide platforms to generate broader interest for this historically important artist. This is happening through public speaking engagements and other programming, as well as research, writing, curatorial pursuits and acquisitions. The project also seeks to raise money for archival documentation and other collections management needs related to preserving her inventory.

Mildred Thompson’s contribution to the history of abstraction, and African American art, is only now being more fully examined. And I am very grateful to the Arkansas Arts Center for the opportunity to introduce Mildred and her work to your community.

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