Mel Ahlborn (born 1958) is a contemporary artist whose artistic expression draws upon cultural symbolism with historically complex commonalities. Her commercial works for education and business illustrate, brand, present, and instruct using print, multimedia and interactivity. Her fine art works for exhibition and collection represent contemporary human experience, and use the visual language of Christianity to explore identity, tradition, and story.
Early Life and Education
Ahlborn grew up in northern New Jersey, attending St Philomena’s School in Livingston and Mount St Dominic Academy in Caldwell. She graduated from Tufts University with a BS in Chemistry and Classics, where Professor Emeritus John W. Zarker profoundly influenced her interest in the application of chemistry to the science of archeology. Ahlborn then studied in the Department of Archeological Sciences at the University of Bradford at West Yorkshire, UK. At Bradford, she was introduced to neutron activation analysis and x-ray diffraction, and researched the chemical composition of pre-400 AD Roman-era pigments on minster wall murals at York [Eboracum]. Through the Society for Calligraphy and Friends of Calligraphy, Ahlborn studied lettering arts with Ed Fong, Lothar Hoffmann, Louis Lemoine, and Peter Thornton. In correspondence with Donald Jackson, she applied her studies at Tufts and Bradford to the historic techniques of manuscript illumination, iron ink, vellum, quills, gilding, and methods of book production that have fallen out of use since the invention of movable type. Years later, her children grown, Ahlborn attended Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. As a graduate student in Fine Art Painting, she studied under Mark Tennant and Zhaoming Wu. Ahlborn studied portrait sculpture in clay with Philippe Faraut.
After college graduation, Ahlborn was employed in the aerospace industry. She left her career to start a family with her husband, Paul, and they have two children. Ahlborn organized her freelance work into Illumination Studio in 1989, providing creative solutions to clients around the world. In 1996 Ahlborn worked with The Getty on “The Making of a Manuscript Book” exhibition for the museum’s newly opened Illuminated Manuscript galleries, and in 2003, “Treasures of a Lost Art: Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance” with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In 2000 Ahlborn joined the Board of Directors for the newly founded Episcopal Church and Visual Arts.’ She served as Board Member, Executive Director, and President, retiring from ECVA in 2020. Ahlborn taught manuscript illumination at CARE/GTU and visual art at CALL/CDSP, Berkeley, California. From 2003-2008, she created a series of Distinguished Alumni Awards for the University of Pennsylvania.
- “Inheritance”, in Illuminated Letters, Washington National Cathedral, 2005
- “Cree Prophecy” in Art & Letter, CLAS, The British Library, 2005
- “Taste and See”, St Mary the Virgin, NY. 2005
- “Ubuntu Reredos”, General Convention of the Episcopal Church, 2009, Anaheim, California.
- “Mira! Hark!”, Coor Gallery, Villanova University Chapel, 2009. Solo exhibition.
- “Reflections of Generosity”, Sgt. Ron Kelsey, Curator, Illesheim, Germany. 2010
- “Eternal Spirit” multimedia reredos, Grace Cathedral, 2011
- “Illuminated Miniatures”, The Gallery, One Kings Lane, 2011
- “Modern Love, Intercess and Wait”, Gallery 1055, 2012. Solo exhibition.
- City of Los Angeles, Distinguished Achievement in the Arts, 1989, 1990
- Sacred & Liturgical Art Festival, Springfield Arts Association, Springfield, Illinois, Award of Excellence; “Walking on Water”, a modern manuscript illumination on vellum, 2002
- Distinguished Marks, Art & Letter Exhibition, “Cree Prophecy”, CLAS UK, 2005
Visio Divina - A Reader in Faith and the Visual Arts, Edited by Mel Ahlborn and Ken Arnold, 2009. ISBN 978-1595180308 Link: leaderresources.org Link: Amazon
- Dykema, Bobbi. “‘Hope, Presence, Dignity, and Pain: Mel Ahlborn's Modern Love: Intercess and Wait.’” ARTS Magazine, 2013. Link: academia.edu Link: societyarts.org
Lectures and Conferences
- “Beyond Aesthetics ; The Artist as Practicing Theologian”, conference speaker, Christians in the Visual Arts, Los Angeles, 2005
- “Manuscript Illumination Revealing Scripture as a Primary Pointer to Christ”, conference speaker, Imago Dei Conference on Theology and the Visual Arts, Kansas City, 2005
- “The Illuminated Manuscript: Historic Methods and Modern Adaptations,” keynote speaker, The McCune Collection, Vallejo, Ca 2008
- “Carl Jung: The Red Book,” keynote speaker, The McCune Collection, Vallejo, Ca, 2010
- “Symbolism and The Red Book by Carl Jung,” keynote speaker, Friends of Calligraphy, San Francisco, 2010
- “Imagining the Past in France - History in Illuminated Manuscripts,” keynote speaker, The McCune Collection, Vallejo, Ca, 2011
- ”An Illustrated History Manuscript Illumination,” keynote speaker, The McCune Collection, Vallejo, Ca 2012
- “William Morris and the Kelmscott Press”, keynote speaker, The McCune Collection, Vallejo, Ca 2013
- “Sacred Arts Festival”, Church of the Holy Communion, Memphis, TN, 2014
The Los Angeles Daily News (1996); The Contra Costa Times (2005); The Forum with Michael Krasney, KQED Public Radio (2003); Lightworks with Canon Rick Johnson at Grace Cathedral, KRON4 TV (2004); San Francisco Weekly (2004); Episcopal Life (various, 2003-2012); City Suburban News, Villanova, PA, 2009.
The Apple and the Pomegranate