Melissa Tubbs ’72 started her career with a favor to her sister. One pen-and-ink drawing of her sister’s father-in-law’s home later, Tubbs had a new niche.
With practice and passion, Tubbs’ art gained traction and she moved on to her biggest project yet as the instigator and commissioned artist for “Celebration and Preservation: Drawing Alabama’s Architectural History.”
The exhibition features 25 Alabama buildings built between 1820 and 1997, all known for their varying architecture and history. Tubbs worked to raise funds for the project, but didn’t reach the amount needed. Eventually, a friend put her in contact with the director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, and her dream came to fruition. She traveled through the state, snapping photos of the buildings she wanted to draw. She divided the state into five areas, finishing all 25 pieces in eight and a half months.
“I did not want stereotypical big white columns,” Tubbs said. “I did include a few, and they didn’t necessarily have to be national landmarks.”
Tubbs prioritized showcasing architectural variety throughout the state. At first, she wondered how she would find 25 buildings to draw; by the end she felt she couldn’t decide which buildings to leave out.
From the Old Monroe County Courthouse, well-known from the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to the Rosenbaum House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Tubbs hoped to educate others on pen-and-ink works and the history behind the architecture.
As a graduate of Auburn with a degree in Visual Design, Tubbs said she began in graphic design work before making pen-and-ink work her full-time dedication. Her mother told her she used to receive notes from school teachers that said, “Melissa is good at fingerpainting.”
“I guess it was destined to be,” Tubbs said.
Her first exhibition was in Gadsden, and she was overwhelmed with the success.
“The director said he was thrilled that they held the exhibition because it had doubled their foot traffic into the museum,” Tubbs said. “A lot of people, when they see my work, think they are photographs or prints until they get up close and look.”
The director of the museum had to point out the intricacy of the pen-and-ink drawings to some of the guests, and said their reactions to the works were priceless.
While her art surfs museums and galleries all over the state, Tubbs is taking time to catch up on commissions. Her work has been displayed throughout the state and the country. Tubbs was chosen to create one of the state’s White House ornaments in 2001 and her creation is now a part of the White House Christmas Ornament collection. All of the materials she used were purchased from J&M Bookstore.
“It’s worked out great and I have gotten the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do because of this,” she said.
The shipping of the ornament was rocky, the 3-D element was challenging and the process was intensive. Tubbs said it was worth every moment. She attended an artist event with her sister at the White House, because her sister started it all.
In the introduction of one of her most extensive projects, the Bicentennial exhibition, Tubbs said she believes in an old proverb that comes to mind when thinking of the history rooted in the buildings she drew. “The wise man preserves that which he values, and celebrates that which he preserves.”
The tour of Tubbs’ art will continue through June 2019. To find out more, visit aub.ie/Tubbs.
by Lily Jackson ’18