She loved art, chocolate, red wine, dogs, recycling, her old and new friends, and her community.
But above all, she loved her sons, Griffin and Gordie, and her adoring husband, Alan; and her father.
I met Melissa Lanitis Gregory 20 years ago in South Shore.
We’d run into each other around town, catch up on life and move on. We worked in the small Tahoe advertising/marketing world. A naturally gifted artist, she struggled with the confinement of graphic design and desired to create art on her own terms.
Mel was a highly educated woman, and grew up in a creative family in the New York City area, drawing pictures inspired by Yellow Submarine, and horses. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a graphic design degree. But the big city life was not for her. Leaving her Assistant Art Director job in New York City for a waitress job in Tahoe seemed like a no-brainer for Mel. She fit right into our mountain town. Soon she met Alan, and fell in love riding on the back of his motorcycle.
Next came Griffin, followed by Gordie and she home schooled them which gave her time to pursue her art. While teaching them the basics she also exposed her sons to art, literature, music, nature and community service. Alan provided the outlet for playing in the mountains and took Gordie and Griffin skiing, biking, and backpacking at every opportunity.
Melissa always wanted an art studio. Alan granted her wish a few years ago, and the Paper Moon Studio came alive.
Melissa was a champion for community; of maintaining a sense of place for South Lake Tahoe. She also yearned for an art community in her home town and believed it was here. She maintained that it was just buried under all of the skis, bikes and kayaks.
She was involved in several art workshops for children and art fundraisers for the local library or others in need like Stacey. An avid conservationist, she built two full-size thrones (yes thrones) created from toilet paper rolls that won Best of Show at WNCC’s annual Recycled ARTicles show in 2003. A second throne, “Not Throne Away”, benefited the South Lake Tahoe library. And she created “Bear Your Soul”, a blue fiberglass bear featuring a mirrored mosaic at his center, created for the Bears by the Lake event.
After years working in the local graphic design/advertising industry, Melissa was given a book on the art of papier mache, and has been creating unusual pieces ever since. Clocks. Mixed media pieces. Bowls. Earrings. Even art helmets were made with recycled paper and became her signature “Art with a Recycled Soul”.
Mel had a strong sense of design that complemented her strong sense of style. She loved type. And vocabulary. She would tease me about words like “celebrate” or “special”.
She loved to laugh. Loud and uncontrollably. It made her feel good. And everyone around her.
I ran into Mel again in 2006 and shared my idea for my website, Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture. For hours we discussed the need for one more Tahoe website…but mine would be different. I promised. It would be about our mountain culture; a “special” place to “celebrate” our creativity in whatever expression it manifested, whether on canvas or a mountain or chef’s cutting board.
She loved it.
At that moment she joined the rat race once again. Sort of. I made her my Inspiration Director. I even made her business cards. It was a no-brainer for me to put Melissa and our mutual friend, Kristen Schwartz, on the masthead of TAMC.
Last summer, I was proud to work with Mel on the Tahoe: Lost & Found project.
Like many she was devastated by the aftermath of the Angora Fire and realized many people were still putting their lives together. Then she learned that the library had lost $2,000 worth of books in the homes that were destroyed in the fire. She had to do something. She wanted to hold an art show to raise money, and to connect with those folks out in the burn area and the firefighters, to see how they were doing and to let them know we were still thinking of them. She wanted to rekindle the sense of community that we found during the fire, by inspiring all of us to our own ways of giving.
“Tahoe: Lost & Found – Inspired by Fire: Expressions of a Community one year after Angora” unfolded and allowed individuals and businesses to participate. Soon we had a series of art events, business promotions and a huge art auction on our plates, with 42 pieces of art submitted by 21 artists from around the lake. The Valhalla Grand Hall, her favorite place, was packed for the final auction.
As we sat in the Paper Moon Studio doing the final accounting eating chocolate and drinking wine, we broke out in laughter; toasted each other and counted again. $2,080.
Besides raising money to replace library books, Tahoe: Lost & Found introduced us to many new friends. Like Yasmin Sayyed, a poet and mixed media artist in South Shore, who wrote the following verse about Melissa:
I loved her mixed media work, masterful designs, playful colours, balanced heart and intellect, urban and rural… They laughed and wept, danced and limped, connected art and social consciousness.
She made art alive and took it to a place that connects the individual, community, and spiritual splendour, and she made being connected with another — the art of uniquely interconnected elegance.
Melissa lost her battle with autoimmune hemolytic anemia on February 24, 2009.
While it is with heavy hearts that we must say goodbye to our dear friend Melissa, we know that we will each find our way to honor her in our daily lives; whether it be through community service, art, inspiring others to follow their passion, laugh out loud, go on a quiet walk with a friend, read a book to a child, or spend an entire day just being.
Alan and the South Lake Tahoe Library have set up a Memorial Fund in Melissa’s name in order to continue to purchase books for the community. Please make your check donation to “South Lake Tahoe Branch Library” and drop off or mail to 1000 Rufus Allen Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150. As books are purchased, donor names will be imprinted in the books along with, “In Memory of Melissa Lanitis Gregory”.
A memorial service for Melissa will be held in the near future; as well as other events to honor one of South Shore’s and Tahoe’s most influential artists and community members. We will miss her dearly.
In the meantime, please feel free to leave your memories of Mel below. (comments will be added within 24 hours)