Story by Briana Thornton
Melody Milleker leads a busy life. By day, she teaches 8th grade art students at a middle school in Prince George County, a job she describes as “exhausting but awesome.” And by night, she creates beautiful jewelry that repurposes nature’s rejects, perfect for those whose personal style lean towards the “non-traditional” end of the spectrum.
When Melody first started out, she would collect fallen leaves, evergreens, bugs and flower petals on walks with her dog, alluding to the name she later developed for her jewelry line, Lonely Pine.
“I pulled the ‘pine’ part of the name from the wintertime; I was using a lot of evergreens. The ‘lonely’ aspect of it came from the solitude of me walking on my own, picking up these things. The only being with me was my dog and I was the only person making them. It was all just a very personal process.”
Much of her knowledge in jewelry-making came from Google, but she also credits her growth as an artist to the VCUarts school, where she majored in art education, allowing her to learn about various aspects that made up the arts program.
When asked about her biggest inspiration, Melody said, “Just nature itself; that’s where it all came from. I don’t ever like to use things that I don’t like because it doesn’t inspire me. I just want the plants and nature to speak for itself.” She takes pride in showcasing nature’s beauty rather than fabricating something fake or plastic, which is why much of her jewelry uses resin which preserves the natural delicacy of the plants and creates a lightness that she says is always present in her designs.
Although Melody does not yet have a storefront, she has been successful at selling her jewelry in local boutiques including Ashby, The Orange, and the Valentine Museum Gift Shop, as well as at many local events which allow her to network and get her designs out there.
“Making nature’s treasures your own.” Not only is this Lonely Pine’s Instagram bio, but it’s how Melody would describe her brand. She’s using something that’s naturally gorgeous and letting it speak for itself, which is why many of her pieces are simplistic. A pansy flower fits perfectly into a circular shape so why would someone try to force it into a square mold?
“I don’t like forcing things into a mold that doesn’t fit or putting things together that don’t make sense; I like to stick with the natural essence of the pieces,” Melody said.
I asked Melody what her ultimate piece of advice would be for students also interested in turning their creative interests into cash, to which she responded, “Really put your everything into it; don’t just see it as just a side hobby. Make sure that if it’s something you’re passionate about you’re giving it the attention it deserves.”
And to VCUarts students, her word of advice: sleep!
“If you’re frustrated with something, take a break. I found that my most successful moments in AFO was when I was able to walk away from something and come back to it with fresh eyes,” Melody said.
I know I could definitely get on board with that! But the key to turning your passion into success is giving it the time and attention it needs to grow and flourish, just like the beautiful blooms Melody works with.