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Chester County Press

No cages: The spirit and soul of Melissa Pelczar

09/12/2016 02:21PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

When Melissa Pelczar was growing up on a dairy farm in Landenberg, she owned her own island.
It wasn't a real island, but rather an inlet in the middle of the White Clay Creek, 20 feet long and about six feet wide, and connected to the creek bank by a small bridge that she made. It even had its own pond. There were other small patches of earth along the creek that protruded above the water, and they were given names like Snake Pit and Rock City, but this one was all hers.
While the men in the Hocking family worked from sunrise to sundown at the farm, Melissa spent her summers barefoot and outdoors, rafting along the creek with her friends or building forts in the nearby woods. She drew in coloring books. She studied the photographs in the National Geographic the family subscribed to – images that took her to other parts of the planet.
Then the world the young girl was given began to speak to her. It revealed its vulnerabilities. It lifted up its veil and invited her to solve its riddles, its secrets. It shared its sloppiness and its beauty, and it was sweet and hard and poignant and occasionally suffering.
She was the kid outlier, and it posed for her.
The life that Melissa Pelczar, 32, now leads as a Landenberg-based creative and commercial photographer -- inspired by her work as an artist and a sculptor -- captures the same narrative of her childhood, one that opens a door and invites the viewer to take a leap into the backstory of the freeze-framed document.
“My photography attempts to invite someone in, to enter into the moment,” said Pelczar, who lives in Landenberg with her husband, Jacek. “To invite everyone to leave the senses of their immediate reactions in order to view the photos with a clean slate, and then, step into that separate universe. I'm trying to capture the spirit of a place, or someone, a place and the being of it, no matter where it is or who it is.”
In many ways, the lifelong journey that has led Pelczar to find her creative voice began as a search for new islands. After graduating from Avon Grove High School in 2002, she graduated from the Delaware College of Art and Design two years later. She graduated from Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., in 2006, and then went overseas to study archaeology and metaphysical fragmentation of humanity at the University of Oslo in Norway, and then at Charles University in Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Soon after accepting a job as an English teacher in Poland in 2008, she met her husband and got married in 2009, and lived and worked in Poland for the next two years. During her time there, Jacek bought his wife a Canon camera. Having only taken three introductory classes during school, Pelczar was not well versed on the technical aspects of shooting, but decided the best way to learn was to practice.
In 2011, she and Jacek moved to Landenberg, down the road from the farm where she grew up. Although she launched her photography career only a short time after she returned home, Pelczar has already amassed a large portfolio of portraiture, landscapes, architecture and commission work.
“Even though I am not formally trained in photography, I learned how to compose from my work in painting, illustration and sculpture,” she said. “I search for the same light, color and form.”
Her work has already begun to draw the admiration of others.  
“Melissa's art transports you to a moment, a feeling, giving you a small piece of her, yet allowing you to make that moment your own,” said her friend and fellow photographer, Anteia Consorto. “It's beautiful and timeless. In a digital age where everyone's a 'photographer,' it's so easy to get lost in the crowd, yet she sets herself apart and shows us that she's truly an artist that deserves our appreciation.”
“Melissa's art invokes the desire of those viewing her work to learn more about the spirit and soul of the places and people captured by her lens,” said her friend, Jeff Eastburn. “It is a gift to see such talent in today's world; it allows us to transport ourselves to another place and time; to give us a much-needed break from our own chaotic universes."
“The work she does is not only taking pictures,” Jacek said. “Melissa preserves a moment. She makes it her own, and it stays forever. In reality, that moment has come and has passed, and if it were not for her photograph, that moment would fade away.”
In September, the Pelczars headed back to Poland for the next two years, while Melissa pursues a Masters' in socio-cultural anthropology from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. The mission of her studies there will dovetail with her life as a photographer. She will study how art influences cultures, and how artists make a determination to pursue their art as either a hobby or a profession.
“Is the art leading them, or are they leading the art, and is art really an offering to some sort of divine being?” she said. “We cage ourselves in so many ways, and artists are trying to break through that cage, but they are confined to that cage by their medium. So how does the artist work by not being constricted by cages?”
On her website, which she calls Spirit and Soul, Pelczar has defined her photography as “peeling the film of reality from the fabric of the universe.” Her photography, she wrote, serves as “gateways to other worlds, ones that have passed, ones that will become or ones that never existed, bound by frame and endless in imagination.
“What is their meaning?” she wrote. “If you would listen carefully, you would know by now it does not matter. The important thing is: What are they to you? None of them mean anything without a person to look at them, appreciate them, lose themselves inside one of [them]. What they really are is a gift of memories and feelings that do not even have to be yours, but you can make your own.
“Through them, I want to show you places you never knew existed, people you will never meet and those you do not want to forget.”
For more information, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail


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