Notable Neighbors

April 20, 2023 at 4:26 p.m.
Notable Neighbors
Notable Neighbors

By DEAN LAUX Columnist

This Lady Truly Followed Her Dream
From her earliest years, Melissa Pell Loughlin wanted to be involved in the world of art, and it’s no wonder. Her father, Peter S. Pell, was a lover of art, and her mother Carolyn was co-chair of the Costume Institute of the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Young Melissa spent many hours enjoying the fine art pieces the MMA displayed, and she also hoped to become a creative participant herself someday. “The MMA set a very high standard for the quality of art they would show,” she says, and that was to influence Melissa throughout her life. It could have been a curse. Instead it was a blessing.

After completing grammar school, Melissa enrolled at Saint Gregory’s Preparatory High School in Tucson, Arizona, at that time a small, newly minted Episcopalian establishment, where she took modern dance, art classes, and was, by the way, the only girl on the boys’ lacrosse team.

She was in the school’s first graduating class of nine students in 1982 and went on to the Parsons School of Design, a highly ranked private college in New York City, ensconced in the heart of Manhattan’s artsy Greenwich Village. She majored in illustration and built upon her already developing portfolio of paintings, but she didn’t graduate from Parsons. The reason? She had a better choice. She interned with Lou Dorfsman, the longtime design chief and creative director at CBS. “That was an honor and a huge introduction to the art world of design and marketing,” she acknowledges. “I got his coffee and ran errands, but I also got to watch the corporate marketing department in branding products. I got to interact with people and work on finishing renderings started by someone else. It was a remarkable internship.”

Melissa also took courses in design at the Fashion Institute of Technology to broaden her skills. “At that time my renderings were very tight,” she says, “but now my painting is mostly impressionistic, so it goes to show how art can change over the years.”

At age 22 in 1986, Melissa met Lawrence Loughlin, and six years later they married. Larry was a very successful stockbroker with important clients around the globe. She had taken a job as an assistant to the fashion director at Ralph Lauren Corporation in Manhattan. “But Larry was a traditional guy. He wanted me at home, and I wanted children, so I left Ralph Lauren to be with him.” He traveled extensively to England and Europe, and she was at his side on many trips. His clients were among the rich and famous, and she and Larry were usually guests at their homes and attended many events (including the races at Ascot). “It was an exciting time,” she says, “but it was also a lot of work. Larry was devoted to his work and his clients, and it was a lot for me to keep up with them.” When their daughters were born in 1993 and 1994, Melissa focused on taking care of them.

After ten years of marriage, Larry and Melissa decided to go their separate ways, and in 2002 Melissa made a life-changing decision to move to Dorset, a small village in southern Vermont where her sisters and parents had homes. She and Larry were acquainted with novelist John Irving, a Vermont native, and he had invited them to become one of the founding families of the Maple Street School, a private school for children in nearby Manchester. “I took a leap of faith,” Melissa says. She enrolled her daughters there, because “they were always my first priority,” and she could now devote more of her energy to painting.

“I opened my own art studio, and I taught some art classes there and at the Southern Vermont Art Center,” she says. Among those classes was one hilarious Jackson Pollock session wherein the kids got to throw paint at a canvas. She also had a solo showing of her paintings at the Southern Vermont Art Center, quite an honor in itself.

“John Irving brought in all kinds of people – authors and artists, some of them famous, to talk with the children at the Maple Street School, and I got to meet them. That was when I started to represent other artists as well,” she recalls. “They would ask what I thought, where should they try to sell their work, how should they show their work.” They didn’t have the contacts and the knowledge to arrange showings, and Melissa became a vital source for them. When she arranged showings, she was doing them a favor, and if their works were sold, she would receive an appropriate commission. At the same time, she was showing her own works as well, which made good financial sense.

Among her many contacts, Melissa had friends in the art field in Boca Grande, Fla. and found herself going there frequently, often participating in art events. When her mother Carolyn retired in 2014, Melissa suggested that she might want to spend her retirement years in Boca Grande, and “to my shock, Momma did just that,” she avers. Unfortunately, Momma became gravely ill with throat cancer, and Melissa moved from Vermont to be with her and arrange for her medical care. After a valiant fight, Momma passed away in January of 2018. The family decided to sell her home in Boca Grande, and Melissa moved to nearby Cape Haze.

“I love Englewood,” Melissa says. “I decided to open a gallery here, because there’s a niche where I think I can expand upon the arts with serious art. I am a member of the Boca Grande Art Center, on the scholarship and show committees, and in the last five or six years I have participated in every single event that has gone on there. When one of the leading galleries in Boca Grande moved out and the building they were in was sold, I started to look for something that was manageable off island.”

She found it, thanks to her friend Diane Mannion, a highly successful local artist. “Diane’s representative in Boca Grande had just moved away, so she asked me to represent her. ‘Represent you?’ I queried. Where?’ and she said, ‘Go find a place.’ That same day I went into Southern Design Living, and they told me that a space had just become available.” It abutted on a garden where she could hold events. “For me that was perfect. I could bring in all the artists I’d ever met in my entire life – whether from Seoul, Korea or South Africa or Venice, Italy or Vermont or like Diane, local – and showcase their work, keeping the quality of art extremely high.” That was what she had learned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The gallery – TSJ Fine Art Gallery – opened last November and is doing well in spite of Covid and Hurricane Ian. “Every artist I’ve had has won countless awards, and I think it’s important to bring that level of art to this community,” she says. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I believe it makes this world a better place by sharing the results of people’s hard-earned talents.”

It sure looks like Melissa Loughlin is achieving the dream she has followed for her entire life. And it’s safe to say the world is a better place for her having done so.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.