By Mara Klecker
Melanie Brannan has had difficulty falling asleep in recent weeks. Throughout the day and into the night, her mind races with thoughts of her friend, Maryann Wegloski.
She thinks of their many inside jokes and the countless little memories that have strengthened their bond. She replays the concerts they attended together and the movies they watched. She chuckles at the many times they found reasons to laugh, even on the way to doctor’s appointments or in waiting rooms as Maryann faced nodular melanoma.
Melanie then thinks of how she might capture those moments on a painted canvas. By next month, she will have more than 20 paintings chronicling her friendship with Maryann – a friendship that she says has not only made her a better artist but a better person.
From March to May, the series of pieces will be on display in a solo exhibit called “A Celebration of Friendship” at the Forrest and Virginia Green Mezzanine Gallery at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts. Melanie is donating the proceeds from the show, after expenses, to the AIM at Melanoma Foundation. She’d asked her friend what foundation she wanted the donation to go to, and Maryann, with the help of her oncologist, suggested AIM at Melanoma.
“I looked at AIM’s website and was so impressed by the mission,” Melanie said. “Then I spoke with Alicia, AIM’s vice president, and just knew that this was the organization we needed to choose.”
Because of Maryann’s health, the two friends haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Maryann has been in and out of the hospital and was transferred to a skilled nursing facility at the end of January. She was first diagnosed in fall of 2019 and underwent immunotherapy. Nodular melanoma is a subtype of superficial spreading melanoma and the most aggressive form of the disease. Unlike other melanomas that tend to grow across the surface of the skin, a nodular melanoma involves vertical growth and invades more deeply earlier, which means it often presents with a greater depth of invasion when it is found and biopsied. For this reason, nodular melanomas are more frequently associated with a poorer prognosis than other melanomas.
This past summer, body scans found cancer in Maryann’s bones, brain and lungs. She was put on targeted therapies and had gamma knife radiosurgery on the spot on her brain. Over the past few months, she’s grown weak and has been in more pain, Melanie said.
“I would do anything for Maryann,” Melanie said. “But really all I can give her right now is my art.”
And so, every day, Melanie returns to her studio to paint. She’s experimenting with several different artistic styles and has chosen a wide variety of subjects, even including a smiling pig holding a pinwheel as he hangs his head out of a car window. It’s an homage to the moment when, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Maryann stuck her own head out of the car window with a spinning pinwheel, reenacting a GEICO commercial that features a pig doing the same.
“We love to laugh,” Melanie said. “Everything is funny to us and if it’s not, we make it funny.”
Other paintings depict Maryann’s favorite flowers and favorite foods, including a piece with two McDonald’s fish fillets – one of the treats that Melanie often brings her friend when she visits. They were eating the sandwiches when Melanie first told Maryann of her plan to create the exhibit, called “A Celebration of Friendship.”
“Everything she says and everything we did could be turned into a painting,” Melanie said. “You don’t realize how deep some of those little moments are until you turn them into art.”
Melanie is even considering making a resin piece incorporating Skittles as an homage to the jar of Skittles that Maryann always had out for her two sons and their friends.
“With all my paintings, I really want you to feel an emotion behind it,” she said. “But I’ve never done something like this exhibit. I’m really putting my heart into it.”
It was art that brought the two women together. They met about five years ago at a private school where Maryann was working and Melanie was teaching a summer camp. Maryann then landed a job as the house manager and art gallery curator at the Eisemann and encouraged Melanie to apply to have her work displayed. Soon, the women realized they had a lot more in common than a love of art. They came from similar backgrounds and shared the same sense of humor.
As she’s working in the studio, Melanie often takes videos or photos to send to Maryann – even if it’s just a short clip of her cat meowing a quick “hello.” She’s also been sending over photos of the paintings she’s completed so far. Maryann has loved each one and picked up on the humorous moments that many of them represent. Still, her texts back have been short lately, as she struggles with fatigue.
But one of her texts said it all. “Thank you for this gift,” she wrote to Melanie.
Really, the gift is the friendship they’ve shared and now can share with others through the exhibit, Melanie said.
“It’s such an honor to be doing this because it’s such an honor to be in Maryann’s life,” she said. “I think people will see this art and think ‘They’re so lucky to have had that kind of friendship.’”
“A Celebration of Friendship” will be on display in the mezzanine gallery at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson, Texas, through March and April. The entire show will also be available for viewing on www.melaniembrannan.com and purchase on www.urbanartistmarket.com starting March 1, with 50% of proceeds after commission going to AIM at Melanoma. Read the press release here.