Does spring make you want to redecorate your house? Ever want to make your wall space pop with a design that speaks to you and honors the nature surrounding you? Melanie Nead accomplishes that with her company, Lonesome Pictopia. The custom wallpaper company has recently ramped up and the studio is in Lower Albina on N Russell Street.
Melanie has spent most of her adult working life on the short block of N Russell between Albina and Mississippi. After graduating from Lewis & Clark College with a degree in English and a minor in Art, she decided to take a year off to decide what her next steps were. She had her goals set on graduate school, but she wanted to make sure before making that commitment.
In 1999, Dustin Ranck founded Icon Tattoo. Melanie got her first tattoo from him that year and then discovered she liked designing tattoos and ended up creating tattoo designs for some friends. Seeing these designs, Dustin offered her a tattoo apprenticeship during her sophomore year in college. She brushed the idea aside since she was determined to be an English professor. However, during her year after college, she revisited the idea. Melanie decided that she would try tattooing and fell in love with that art form. In 2009 she bought Icon Tattoo and moved it to 813 N Russell. She ultimately sold it to two friends who have kept it in the same location.
Melanie took her skill from practicing the ancient craft of tattooing to preserving the applied art of wallpaper. Her husband had opened up Bernstein’s Bagels with a co-owner in the St. John’s neighborhood. Due to complications with the St John’s lease, they began to search for a new location for the bagel shop. The owner of the building, Will Wright, where Icon Tattoo was located also owned the building where previously Mint and Bar 820 were located. It was perfect for Bernstein’s Bagels and a studio next door for Melanie’s dream to open a wallpaper company.
Melanie had started out designing Damask-style murals with stencils and hand-painted details for the walls at Icon Tattoo and both Bernstein’s Bagels locations. She ultimately wanted to take those designs and translate them into wallpaper. She had started designing her hand-painted wallpaper in 2017 but the expanded business started to come to fruition with acquiring the studio space.
She envisioned a showroom in the front of the space and the studio, design, and manufacturing workspace in the back. In January 2020 the business was ready to launch. Of course, Covid took its toll on getting production rolling but it allowed for lots of time to, as she says, “acquire what would be equal to three master’s degrees” from all the research on manufacturing, different techniques for custom wallpaper, and how to run a business.
Melanie and employee, Sierra Handley-Merk, went down a historical rabbit hole learning about how wallpaper was made dating back to the 16th century. She now uses a custom tattoo approach when creating her designs and also likes to bring the outdoors in to reflect the natural surroundings of a house.
Products range from hand-painted wallpaper and painted murals and soon block-printed wallpapers made in her studio. There are three new hand-screened printed designs in smaller production runs and larger runs of Flexographic printed wallpaper manufactured with their partners in Britain. They also offer textiles that are full-weave jacquard made in North Carolina.
Melanie says that “decorative or applied arts are very democratic. We all want and need to be around beautiful things. You can respond to the fact that it’s a beautiful space without having an art degree or a tiny little card explaining the concept.” Humans just have an innate reaction to patterns. One thing Melanie learned with all her art study and research is, “we have similar symbols and shapes in disparate cultures.”
She says we can also break down the line between fine art and applied art. “There’s something so lovely and human in the things that we actually use and surround us in our day-to-day lives. I also love that the person that created it gets washed away in the waters of time. You don’t know what anonymous incredible stone crafter carved these elaborate corbels on a building. All that remains is the touch of their hand. It’s very different than a painting in a museum where the personality of the artist almost overshadows the work itself.”
It’s very important to Melanie to have a social justice piece for her company offering female-identifying artists well-paying jobs. Currently, there are six people involved with the company. Besides Melanie, Celeste Sipes is the CFO, or more commonly known as the Master of Coin and also the owner of Thunderpants; Tashina Hill as the Studio Manager and Stylist; Candace Cohu as Creative Director; Becca Fuhrman as Designer; and Sierra Handley-Merk as Éstanciera or all-around go-to girl.
So how did Melanie come up with the name of her company? Well, she is a huge fan of the evocative and cinematic 1970s horror movies because of the decadent cinema quality. Pictopia felt very cinematic. She said Lonesome came from “how alone you are in artwork and alone in my queendom of beautiful things and a nod to Lonesome Dove,” her favorite book. The name certainly does evoke an image.
Melanie is so proud to be part of and appreciates being in the Eliot neighborhood and respects and acknowledges the history. She understands the tragedy of how the neighborhood was gutted to make way for the freeway and the hospital. It’s much quieter on N Russell than it used to be. 2020 was hard on Lower Albina and a lot of businesses didn’t survive. However, there is a lot of room for change and space for more businesses to move into Lower Albina and she hopes the bustle comes back soon.