Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mary Ann Melchert: SF Chronicle Article

Mary Ann Melchert -- collage artist, wife of
famed ceramist

Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

A memorial will be held Dec. 11 for
Mary Ann Melchert, who, as wife of
ceramics virtuoso Jim Melchert,
came to know and host some of the
world's most celebrated artists.
Mrs. Melchert died Nov. 13 in
Oakland after a long illness. She
was 78.

"She was a tremendously kind and gentle person," said Harry
Parker, director of the de Young Museum in San Francisco. "She
was a great hostess, cook, and a lovely person in every way.
Totally without pretension and artifice."

Although Mrs. Melchert did not share the fame of her husband,
whose work resides in some of the world's great museums, friends
knew the two as a team.

"They seemed inseparable," said Renny Pritikin, director of the
Nelson Gallery at UC Davis. "They finished each other's
sentences. And they took care of each other."

Pritikin told about a gift he received last year from Jim Melchert,
who had created a ceramic piece for him, about 15 inches square.
It came in a spectacular drawstring bag made of small, rectangular
shapes of cloth, each a different shade of blue.
Mrs. Melchert had made the bag, and her husband's piece fit
perfectly within.

"It was a perfect metaphor," Pritikin said, who hung the piece in his
home -- and the bag right next to it.

"She was the archetypal woman behind the man who made it all
possible," he said.

When Jim Melchert was director of the National Endowment for
the Arts, Visual Art Program, from 1976 to 1980, Mrs. Melchert
brought the art world of Washington, D.C., into their home.
It was she who hosted the artists of Rome a few years later, when
her husband became director of the American Academy of Rome
from 1982 to 1986.

Mrs. Melchert was also an accomplished collage artist. She
enjoyed designing her own Christmas cards, and her yearly
mailings to friends topped 1,100, recalled her husband in a written
account of her life.

Born Mary Ann Hostetler in Illinois in 1927 to Mennonite
missionaries, she and her family soon moved to India.
She attended Mount Hermon boarding school in Darjeeling, taking
its top academic award for girls when she graduated in 1944.
Mrs. Melchert earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1948 from
Goshen College in Indiana, where she studied German, Greek and
theology. She intended to follow in her parents' footsteps and went
to Japan to prepare for missionary work.

Jim Melchert happened to be there, too. In a 1991 interview with the
Smithsonian Institution, he recalled their meeting:
"Mary Ann had a song book in which there was a Thomas Morley ...
song for two voices. She liked to sing, but she never found anybody
to do the other part. And I could sight read well, so I provided the
second voice, and we spent a lot of our first month together just
going off and singing, and later climbed Mount Fuji together that

The couple married in 1954 in Tokyo, and they returned to the
United States two years later with two children.
The family moved to the Bay Area in 1959. Mrs. Melchert studied
French at UC Berkeley and earned a teaching certificate. She
taught at Roosevelt Junior High in Oakland in 1972 and 1973.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Melchert is survived by a brother,
John Jay Hostetler of Green Valley, Ariz.; a sister, Lois Young-
Bjerkestrand of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; her children Christopher
Melchert of Oxford, England, David Seth Melchert of Oakland and
Renee Melchert Thorpe of Bali, Indonesia; and five grandchildren.

The memorial will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. John's Presbyterian
Church and Center, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley.

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