A three-foot wide bronze butterfly clings to the side of the stone barn that houses the sound laboratory of the late Harry Bertoia.This sculpture, which catches the sun's rays with its glassy body, is a complementary appendage to the Bertoia world.

The butterfly's creator and sculptor, Melissa Strawser, similarly completes the Bally studio, where the world-renowned artist once created the sound sculptures with his son Val.

Today, Val and Strawser share the studio space in the 100-plus year-old building on Main Street. While they inspire each other with their work, the colleagues individually pursue their passions and attain their own achievements in the United States and abroad.

Strawser, a Reading native, had a childhood seeped in art, with artistic parents and relatives. Following in their footsteps was a natural path for her.

"I am a fifth-generation artist," Strawser said. "I couldn't avoid art, but still I feel privileged to do this."

She holds a First Degree, MA Fine Art/Printmaking from the Slade School of Art, University College London and has been a printmaker for more than 20 years.

She also studied with an artist friend, Bartolomeu dos Santos, in his Tavira Print Workshop in Portugal. She had a print studio in Portugal for several years, and within the past year, set up the GRAY MATTERS print studio at the Bertoia Studio.

As a sculptor, Strawser dons her protective gear, picks up her welding torch, bends, and shapes bronze, copper and brass into her anatomical creations. Many of her pieces include glass or Plexiglas, forming a transparent, window-like feature.

As a printmaker, this artist creates her etchings using delicate, handmade paper. She utilizes the techniques of Intaglio, Aquatint and Chine Coll'ee to transfer her designs.

The etchings are often studies for her metal sculptures. For both art forms, she looks to nature for her inspiration and subject matter.

"At the university in London, I was fascinated with anatomy-we learned to draw by studying anatomy," Strawser said.

She uses these skills and her imagination to create detailed insects, frogs, turtles, reptiles, sea creatures and plants in refreshing settings. A frog sculpture on display near the studio's entrance, for example, has the appearance of the amphibian jumping out of the wall and being suspended in its action.

Strawser's sculptures and etchings will be part of the Boyertown's Arts and Activities Alliance (AAA) tour on Sunday, Oct. 7 from noon to 4 p.m. Strawser and Bertoia will be guiding visitors through the studio and sharing their techniques and concepts.

"We want to educate and awaken people," Strawser said. "We want to teach people about Harry Bertoia and his work and what we do in the studio today. I think the AAA is a very good thing for the community." One of the most rewarding aspects of her career, she said, is meeting new people continuously.

"Every day, I never know who I will meet," she said. "I've met some very fascinating people." Strawser has exhibited her work throughout Pennsylvania, the United States and overseas, including Portugal, Germany and Tawain.

"We're working all of the time," Strawser said. "But, we love what we do."

Contact editor Charlie Buterbaugh at 610-367-6041, ext. 229 or editor@berksmontnews.com.

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