Inclusion + Huggable Art

Inclusion + Huggable Art

Rising Stars: Meet Melissa Bracken

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Bracken. 

Hi Melissa, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
My name is Melissa Bracken, and I have been creating art my entire life. I was inspired by my grandmother, who taught me to sew, and I took her guidance and attended art school in Cincinnati. After graduating from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, I wanted to continue to make sculpture. But, after graduation, I took a side step into the corporate retail world and spent a lot of time in retail merchandising. Eventually, after having a child, I wanted a change. During this time, I was looking to create art while the littles were around and could also enjoy. So, I started sewing again. I have always loved making soft sculpture, so this was perfect. I am inspired to make my huggable art for all ages of art and animal lovers. Reusing materials like sweaters and turning them into a sweet little stuffed creatures just makes me happy. Reusing materials in a new way is exciting for my creativity and is better for our planet. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I would say it has been more of a long road but still challenging. I graduated with an art degree, tried to get a paid job in the arts. Worked in picture framing, at a clay studio, painted murals, then, eventually retail merchandising. I worked full-time in non-art for about 15 yrs. During this time, I was more sporadic in my creating art, only doing a few shows in all of that time. Making various types of sculptural work. Then about 10 years ago, I unexpectedly lost my job. This was a rough time. My son had just turned two and all I wanted to do was stay home with him, but never thought we could afford for me not to work full time. After about a month, I started creating again. I was going to make things out of felt for him, now that I think about it. I had some ideas of wanting to do art full time and ended up taking a business class for creatives at Artworks. Around this time, my nephew was having his first birthday. Well, I had lost my job and didn’t have money for a gift, so I decided to make him a big stuffed monster. I then had a couple requests for stuffies, and within a couple months started working on what is now the beginning of The Happy Groundhog Studio. After, that first year I pushed through and had some side jobs to make ends meet, my husband was bartending and is a musician, but always so encouraging and knew I was finally on the right path. Needless to say, we got really good at living on a tight budget. And this is all before we had our daughter, who was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome and a heart defect that would require surgery. That became a whole new level of challenges. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My huggable art critters are handmade using eco-friendly fabrics and upcycling sweaters and fleeces. This makes my work unique by using mostly recycled and sustainable methods. All fabrics for my whimsical creatures are cut by hand, and many pieces are sewn by hand. All the critters are my own design and even more unique since most of them have pockets. The belly is a pocket and can be customized by adding the felt food treats or the ornament-size critters, which I also make, you could also, put a gift card or a note in the pocket. If you order online or contact me directly I can make them even more special by stitching an initial or name on the heart. 

What do you think about happiness?
My critters have big smiles to make others happy and the joy I get to see when someone picks up a one of my happy critters makes me very happy! But what really gets me is that warm your heart feeling when you see others feeling included. When another child comes over and asks my daughter to play, and she looks back at me with a big smile… I melt. I mean, everyone wants to be included, you know, to be asked to join in on the fun. But, when you look a little different or act a little different it’s just a little harder so that invite means so much more. Our daughter, Beatrice, was born with Down syndrome, and since then I have learned so much about what it looks like to live with a disability. I hope to help educate others on how to better interact and include their friends with disabilities, and friends that may not look like them. Beatrice is such an amazing little girl and will be sure to make you happy if you just slow down and give her a chance. So, if you are a parent, know that when your kids include kids around them, especially the ones that don’t look like or act like them, in whatever they doing, it really makes a happier place for us all. 

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