Teen elephants taking a break, Cray pas on paper

The Elephantworks Studio
Melissa Leaym-Fernandez

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About Me

My Background


When I was a child, my favorite time of day was when I was allowed to draw and paint. As I got older, this love never faded and eventually I went to college to study art. Currently, I am working on my doctoral degree in art education and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University. But as a Sri Lankan-American, a brown woman, one who was sexually assaulted at age 11, raised in poverty in a single parent home, getting here was quite a challenge.

But with the help of a wonderful, strong woman as my mother, and other incredible people who have loved, supported and encouraged-- I am victim-survivor-thriver. What I have realized in my years of making art, researching, consulting and teaching--I am not alone. I am not alone in my experiences, nor in my passion to overcome and to want better for my own children. 

As women creative folks, we must do better to tell our stories and make art that supports those stories--and that sharing. Making art is now part of my research practices.As a researcher I am interested in what happens to individuals that use art making processes to get centered after experiencing  trauma--sexual assaults, poverty, abuses or neglect, discrimination and the intersectionalities of them all in the lives of women. I am building on Black feminist theory through the development of Judy Chicago's Participatory Art Pedagogy influenced by Black feminist thought. I research Chinese TV Drama's (coming of age/love stories) and how women are oppressed in the media. Further, I am interested in art making processes that help kids deal with toxic stress in their young lives.  Through the teachings of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw,  and others to raise my own consciousness.

After women get through all the emotional content of trauma, we need to remember, what we have to offer this world has value, and the creative practices we experience can change lives.


Currently a Doctoral Student in Art Education at Penn State University

Master's of Art--University of Michigan in Arts Administration, 2012

Master's of Art--Eastern Michigan University, 1999

Bachelor of Science--University of Michigan-Flint, 1997

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting--University of Michigan-Flint, 1994

My Medium(s)


As a teaching artist and educator I use many different mediums, such as clay, acrylics, welding, sewing, oils and pastels. I believe that working in a single medium is restrictive to my artistic processes and success. Each idea manifests in its own individual style and medium, currently watercolor is Queen!

My Inspiration


I really think my inspiration comes from love; learning how to lift others, understanding people, understanding our connections to each other, the earth and  animal--it all comes down to love. If we care, we change, if we change, we influence the lives of others.


The Judy Chicago Art Education Award


Recipient of the 2018 Judy Chicago Art Education Award. This award is given for excellence in art educational encounters that promote use of the Judy Chicago art Education Collection at Penn State as inspiration.

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The Dreaming Zebra Foundation Grant


Support, for which I will always remain so grateful for, allowed me to bring incredible creative experiences to my students in Flint, Michigan, who were expected to make art with trash, 30 year old supplies and ill equipped studio spaces. Dreaming Zebra made making art, dealing with feelings, anger, overall communal oppression for students an incredible experience. THANK YOU!

National Endowment for the Humanitites


A grant from the NEH allowed me to get more contextual information for teaching about the contributions of artists of color in the United States. I was awarded a position to participate in the "Crafting Freedom" Landmark  Workshop to immersively learn about artisans, craftsmen and artists that were free, enslaved and formerly enslaved African Americans during the Civil War Era.

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I was awarded funds to attend "Remaking Monsters and Heroines:  Adapting Classic Literature for a contemporary Audience "which included A two-week institute for thirty-six schoolteachers on Frankenstein, Cinderella, and the adaptations of these classic texts.

at the University of Arkansas in  2018.

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Professional Development as an Artist


Through re-granting programs and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, I received funding to develop as a professional artist. The development activities have allowed me further show my art, share what I have learned with other arts professionals and has supported the increase showing of my own artworks.

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Through support of the HURON ECONOMIC COUNCIL and  MCACA I have been awarded grants to further my professional development as an artist, arts educator, and activist for women and girls within the visual arts settings where I work.

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Services offered:



  • Assistance in program evaluation 
  • Assistance with program development
  • Assistance with Curriculum Development
  • Management of programs
  • Professional Development



  • Corporate and large scale commissions
  • oils, watercolor, and a plethora of medium
  • Space and budget specific
  • Personal commissions for small and large budgets

Teaching Artist


  • Design and implementation of programming
  • Teaching children and Adults
  • Short term projects (1 day) to longer term projects (months)
  • Teaching a Participatory Art Pedagogy influenced by Black feminist thought

Contact the Artist

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The Elephantworks Studio

Fort Gratiot, MI and State College PA

(810) 300-3456