Meeting Lakewood Artist Victor Melaragno

Victor Melaragno

Lakewood Is Art: a statement that is extremely true, and has been for a long, long, long time. Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had with Lakewood artist, husband, father, brother, naturalist and all around good guy, Victor Melaragno.

He had come up to me at the Root Cafe, saying, “You know I worked on the Doughnut Pantry sign, when they changed the name." He was referring to a story I did a couple months ago about referring to the Doughnut Pantry by its previous names. “Would you like to see them?” he said. I replied, “Of course.”

During the course of the conversation and looking at the sign, I remembered I had seen some of Victor’s artwork decades ago... Turtles on dirt for the Ohio Herpatolgy Club. When I asked him about his art, he reminded me about the show he was in recently at Prama Art Gallery in Parma.

It occurred to me that it's time to highlight some of Lakewood’s artists, using the definition first laid out by the founding members of “Lakewood Is Art”: to honor, respect and celebrate all forms of art, from drawing to painting, sculpting  to photography, tattoos to writing, textiles to landscaping, mosaics, and yes, even living.

Victor explained that he got his start early in life as soon as he could hold a pencil, doodling at Hayes Elementary and later St. Clements, as a way to deal with both the boredom of the classroom, and to work out ideas in his head. If he wasn't in school he was in The Emerald Canyon, aka the Metro Parks, which he thought of as his backyard. This is where he would search out snakes, amphibians, birds and nature. This would become part of a continuing theme in his life. Love of art and nature.

On the first day of seventh grade at Harding, Vic sat next to a young Lakewood legend, Dermott Hill, in homeroom, who was an amazing artist in his own right. They encouraged each other; it was Dermott who convinced Vic to pursue his dream of being an artist. They remained friends until Dermott passed away in 2018.

As Victor grew, so did his level of art and art instruction. At Lakewood High he became part of the infamous “Kozmic Studios,” a commercial art class taught by real live commercial art studio lead designers-- a program that cranked out professional commercial  artists at an amazing rate.

It was here he met more incredible artists, Erika Wanenmacher, Marc Clements, James Gregory Kraus, and Kevin Hogan, who opened his eyes to the history of art, and the many art movements. Thrown into the world of Cubism, Dadaism, Bauhaus, and Surrealism, he found the Flemish artists Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, and he was hooked.

Continuing his doodling and cartooning, he stumbled onto the hottest craze of the era: Hot Rods, and Hot Rod Art, and no one had a bigger influence on Vic than Big Daddy Ed Roth, creator of "Rat Fink," and many other monster characters.

He also became a gymnast as a good way to burn off energy, and was good enough to win a partial scholarship to Tri-C, but life got in the way. To help with the bills he took a job at Brilliant/Lustrolite as a sign painter, doing hand lettering and gilding. Vic honed his craft with pictorial work and reverse painting for illuminated signs. His vocational course in high school prepared him for pattern making and design scaling which were all done by hand prior to 1990. He enjoyed his new found profession at Lustrolite which became Brilliant Electric Sign Company where he works to this day as a supervisor. He's been there over 50 years now. He married Cindy, the gal of his dreams, with whom he enjoys all his passions along with his children Kay and Emma.

Drawing almost every day, he created monster characters which would get incorporated into cards and letters to his wife, daughters, and friends. These characters were affectionately named "SoonMoon People." Vic started to create cutouts of these using various materials and painting them. Producing a lot of art, but not doing anything with it, he had gotten into a very nice groove and was happy, when out of the blue Erika Wannenmacher and Marc Clements called wanting to put a Kozmic Studio 30 year reunion together. While that never happened, with their encouragement Victor started entering his art in shows, and then started getting invited to put on art shows, then actually selling art.

One of his first shows was at the Root Cafe in 2011, Julie Ramirez, along with Haley Himiko provided him the space to showcase his art. He was lucky enough to sell several of his pieces, one which was purchased by old pal Erika. This led to his 2nd and most important show. In 2015, Erika was guest curator at a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Off Road Productions. The show's theme was alien oriented, called "I Want To Believe." Erika asked Victor to create two "SoonMoon" pieces for the show. He ended up flying down for the grand opening, which motivated him to create more art at a serious level. As this was going on Victor was giving back to Lakewood, creating some murals and art in Lakewood Schools as an act of love, as generations of his family have attended and benefitted from Lakewood schools.

Since then, he has had numerous shows in the greater Cleveland area. Keep your eye out for Vic and family and say hello, and we will help keep you posted on any upcoming shows or installations he may have.

If you know a Lakewood artist in the broadest definitions, drop us a line, we would love to meet them and highlight their talents. After all “Lakewood is Art!”

Jim O'Bryan

Publisher, Lakewood Observer, Inc.

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Volume 19, Issue 4, Posted 12:20 PM, 02.15.2023