Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Inside KDOT: Meet Melissa Rau, artist who brings history to life

Recently, Melissa Rau, a Program Consultant for KDOT's Bureau of Transportation Safety & Technology, Traffic Safety Unit, was featured in the news. Rau is a self-taught artist who creates life-life sculptures of historical figures and here is her story:

Melissa Rau is a Program Consultant for KDOT.
She also sculpts life-life works of art. 
My name is Melissa Rau and I’ve been working for the agency for almost two years. I am a self-taught artist and have had a life-long interest in many different forms of art, however, sculpture has become my main interest. 

I learned the skill of figure sculpting from my mother many years ago.  She specialized in the sculpting of 18-inch tall historic figures. A few years ago, I was asked by the Capper Foundation for Disabled Children to create a scene commemorating the 90th anniversary of the organization and it was my opportunity to create a life-sized historical figure of Arthur Capper. It was my first life-sized figure, and the foundation seemed pleased with the outcome. 

I was then commissioned to create other pieces such as Amelia Earhart, Wild Bill Hickok, James Naismith, Evel Knievel and my latest completed project, Mother Teresa.

Rau's sculpture of Amelia Earhart
Rau's sculpture of Cheyenne Warrior, Roman Nose
I have been recently commissioned to sculpt a famous Native American Cheyenne warrior by the name of Roman Nose. I have completed figures for museums and organizations such as the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, the Great Overland Station, the Capper  Foundation for Disabled Children, the Evel Knievel Museum, Fort Wallace Museum and the Mother Teresa Catholic Church.   

Rau's sculpture of Mother Theresa
Prior to starting each historical project, I surround myself with as many photos as I can. I commence hand-sculpting the faces, hands and feet. I make the bodies from metal and wire. I thoroughly research and hand-make the clothing or I incorporate antique pieces. Each historic figure may take up to twelve weeks to create.

 Each figure I create offers new design challenges and I like that. There’s a lot of internal construction that goes into my figures and I carefully contemplate each piece and contrive the internal design so that the finished product gives the exact look I’m targeting. The minute placement of the head, the hand gripping a weapon, folded arms, the exact placement of each foot, leg, arm, torso, everything goes into the body language of an individual and makes a profound statement about their personality and how they are perceived.

Rau's sculpture of Evel Kneivel can be seen
at the Evel Kneivel Museum in Topeka
I want my audience to understand the character of each person I create—what it would be like to meet them in person, what motivated and interested them and what made them significant to the history of our great country. 

In between historic projects, I create many whimsical pieces such as Santas, elves, Halloween figures, etc. and in many different sizes. One of my holiday “elf projects” can be viewed at Fairlawn Plaza Mall in Topeka during the month of November and December each year.

For more information about Rau's work, watch the news clip about her and read the article from KSNT here: 

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