Melissa Rackham loves storytelling, creating physical artifacts and working through questions creatively. “Being a visual artist allows me to be a part of a larger discussion about experience, perspective and the creative process,” she says.
She is a photographer, working mostly with historic and experimental processes. “I’ve been working with cyanotype consistently for many years,” Rackham says. She has painted photo emulsions onto unexpected objects like wood, canvas and even duck eggs and has recently begun layering encaustic wax over photographs mounted to board.
“I try to bring a sense of curiosity into my work, as I’m interested in exploring and experimenting, mixing old and new technologies and making connections between modern themes and historical references,” she says. “In an ongoing project, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, I work with a blue photographic process from 1842, the cyanotype, exploring themes of motherhood, loss and birth. Currently, that is my most vivid perspective.”
It’s probably not surprising, then, that her biggest motivations are “my husband and my children. They are my muses,” she says. “My students keep me motivated to model what a busy, working artist looks like.”
Rackham’s next move is a step toward the entrepreneurial. She’s at work creating a set of tutorials on those alternative photographic processes she’s gotten so adept at. Alongside those, she’ll be selling chemistry kits, containing everything necessary to create photographs with those processes. “My goal is to make them fun, less overwhelming and accessible to anyone with an interest in experimenting with photography and alchemy,” she says. “My long-term goal is to build a space to house workshops here in Spokane, as I travel for workshops around the country.” She’s actively searching for the right property and hopes to open soon.
Rackham moved to Spokane almost 10 years ago from Memphis. She says the move was initially strategic—to be closer to family—“but we’ve fallen in love with Spokane and found a sense of community here. I feel inspired and am surrounded by supportive, creative people so it’s a perfect fit.”
You can find Melissa’s work at Melissarackham.com.
Benjamin Fife | Westward Leather
Ben Fife has been at this his whole life. “Since I was a child, I’ve always used my hands to build, make, shape,” he says. It’s a drive that seems to come from within, “a call to create.”
He works with metal and wood, but it’s his leatherwork under the Westward Leather brand that has caught the attention of fashionable locals and tastemaking shops around the country.
He sees this work as part of the larger movement back toward handmade goods, but not because they represent a current trend, or as symbols of status. “My hope,” Fife says, “is that we as a culture feel inspired to slow down, take inventory of our life and times as a people, and shift our perspective to investing not just in quality goods of course, but in quality of life, and in each other.”
It’s a mantra he does his best to live. “The perspective behind Westward, is that we should take time to resurrect or restore certain perspectives and practices that promote a life of purpose, and work in harmony with the world around us,” Fife says. “I still need a lot of practice myself, so we each start with ourselves I guess.”
That humbleness finds its way into his work. Westward features classic, simple designs and bulletproof construction. They hew closely to the utilitarian beauty of the historical photos and vintage goods he posts in parallel on Westward’s Instagram account.
The region itself is another inspiration. “I grew up here, left and traveled, and have always been called back,” he says. “The wild spirit that is the history of the Pacific Northwest really resonates with me.” He’s excited about this particular moment in our history. “I specifically think that our area right now has the potential to blossom into something amazing.”
For his own blossoming, Fife plans to continue evolving his craft to the point the craftsmanship can transcend generations. “I would like to see the children of my current supporters carrying the items I’ve made for their mother or father,” he says. “It would be nice to leave something behind that tells a story, and the story will be theirs, and mine. Ours.”
Find Fife’s work at westwardleather.com and on Instagram @westwardleather. Locally, you can find select items at Kingsley & Scout, 2810 N. Monroe.