Art and Business: A Perfect Blend
When you have a favorite Uncle Mike whom you label as “cool,” you naturally want to attend the same college he did. At least that was an important factor for Melinda Bell Dickey ’81. Of course, reputation and location also had a lot to do with her choice to attend Ferrum College. “When I came to visit, I was impressed with the size and the beauty of the campus, especially as you are driving down Route 40 in the rural setting and just ‘pop’ out into Ferrum College!” says Dickey, who adds, “Not to mention that Ferrum being so close to Roanoke, I could sneak home for a quick visit and Mom’s cooking if I needed to!”
From her time on campus, Dickey’s fond memories include pizza from The House Restaurant, driving up Shooting Creek, hanging out on Philpott Lake, food fights inspired by the movie Animal House in the cafeteria, and concerts on the football field featuring national groups such as the Robbin Thompson Band. She was selected to the Homecoming Court in her junior year, worked as the reporter for her senior class, and was active with the Young Republicans Club.
Dickey numbers among her favorite professors Jane Stogner, Lolene Corron, Joan Litton, and Bruce Mattox. She particularly appreciated how much Stogner inspired her and motivated all of the art students to find their own artistic voice. “I love to tell the story of how I mentioned to her on the first day of class that my mother was also an artist. She said that was very nice. When she realized a few months later who my mom was, she said incredulously, ‘Your mother is Anne Bell!’”
She remembers Lolene Corron as very kind with a caring teaching approach and Joan Litton as easy to talk and relate to as well as being a joyful spirit. Bruce Mattox was Dickey’s economics professor, and he encouraged her to join Phi Beta Lambda. She and her best friend Barbara Hughes ’82 believed his classes to be the toughest they attended, but in retrospect she thinks that perhaps they (Dickey and Hughes) might have been an even greater challenge for him: “Bruce pushed us hard to fully understand the economics concepts and I still fall back on those basic principles. He definitely had a soft spot for us and would sometimes dismiss us a little early from our evening class so that we could hurry back to our little apartment to watch Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.!”
During her senior year, Dickey was asked to participate on the Stoneleigh Working Committee after the estate was donated to the College. Says Dickey of that experience, “I was very impressed with the Tudor-Revival mansion while I was on the committee and it certainly inspired me towards a career in either interior design or architecture. My senior dance was held there and it was a magical night in an extraordinary manor.”
Dickey is now an interior designer and co-owner of Alem Dickey Designed Interiors at Revolution Mill Studios in Greensboro, North Carolina. She and her partner, Gina Alem, feel strongly about giving back to the community and do so mostly by participating in charity show houses, including Habitat for Humanity Chic Chateau Showhouses, Junior League Showhouses, and Symphony Showhouses. Several years ago she chose to further her education in “green” design and sat for the strenuous LEED* AP exam, achieving LEED Accredited Professional status with the specialty of building design and construction. According to Dickey, one of her most exciting design accomplishments occurred in 2010 when she worked with a builder to complete the first silver LEED certified home on Smith Mountain Lake.
The following year the home was included in the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Tour of Homes and featured in The Washington Post.
As a small business owner, Dickey is certain that her major at Ferrum, while not leading directly to her career, has definitely enhanced it. She states that, “While my interior architecture degree from University of NC Greensboro is the creative heart of my business, my business degree from Ferrum is the foundation from where it is built and functions. The creative genes I inherited from my mother just had to come forth, and my education ended up being a perfect blend.”
Thanks to social media Dickey has reconnected with several classmates but hadn’t visited the Ferrum campus in quite a while. When she returned last spring for the dedication of the Anne Bell Gallery, she was overwhelmed by the change: “What an incredible amount of progress! I have to admit as an avid ‘java-holic,’ I was blown away that there is a Starbucks now on campus! That is a long way from the little hot pot we had in our dorm room!”
Dickey was very pleased by her mother’s decision to donate more of her artwork to Ferrum. She believes that the pieces are a perfect fit and that the College is the perfect place for the collection to reside. She says, “This series really speaks of the Ferrum area and the original ‘folk’ life. It is home now in the gallery for many to enjoy and experience.” Dickey was honored to introduce her mother at the gallery dedication ceremony and luncheon and mentioned how as children she and her brothers didn’t realize what a great artist Anne Bell was; to them she was just “Mom.” The selected pieces are among Dickey’s favorites: “Perhaps it is because it was so personal, living at home when she did most of these. They are just so full of emotion and personality. They tell such vast stories of lives these people lived. You can experience their feelings, their struggles, and their strife in each work of art.”
*LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation sanctioned by the U.S. Green Building Council, an industry group that promotes sustainable building design and construction.