“When I was a lawyer, I always felt like I was pretending to be somebody else. Now I just feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.”
For many people, being a partner in a major law firm would be a fulfilling professional achievement. But after 13 years of practicing law, Melanie Piech had a different thought: that her career choice had been a mistake.
Growing up, Melanie was surrounded by hands-on work: her father spent 10 years remodeling the family home, doing everything from woodworking and tiling to plumbing and electrical work. Despite a similar knack for building, Melanie became an attorney—but the urge to create didn’t go away. “Whenever a large legal project was nearing completion,” Melanie recalls, “the only thing I could think of was getting the opportunity to make something. I realized that I really had an interest in making sculpture and furniture and art.”
After taking time off work to raise a child, Melanie decided to pursue her true passion. In choosing a school for this second act, she was drawn to the “funkiness” of SFAI, as well as the emphasis on ideas. “John Roloff is the head of the Sculpture Department, and I’ve found it very challenging to be in some of his classes,” says Melanie. “He really is pushing you to go to the next level, a more conceptual level, and to figure out not just what you want to build, but what is it within you that you’re trying to express.”
At SFAI, Melanie has made ambitious sculptures such as an oversized redwood chair that resembles an exoskeleton, and a chair with welded 7-foot wheels that turn independently, allowing the sitter to maneuver and perform. She has also studied computer-aided design, using Vectorworks to model a fountain that a local housing complex has asked her to build for its courtyard.
Art school has proven to be a far cry from her structured former profession. “Here, it’s pretty wide open and you have to forge your own path,” says Melanie. “My experiences at SFAI have given me ammunition to figure out where I’m going.” And along the way she’s achieved not just artistic but personal growth. “When I was a lawyer, I always felt like I was pretending to be somebody else. Now I just feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.”