How a Quispamsis woman's painting landed a spot at Jane Goodall's 85th birthday

Melissa May started painting with the help of dollar-store paintbrushes last summer. Now her art will be featured at Jane Goodall's 85th birthday party in Vienna.  

"She's going to be in the presence of my artwork, which is very surreal," said the Quispamsis artist.

May's painting was one of 17 selected from around the world. The pieces will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to the Jane Goodall Institute, a global organization that focuses on the research and conservation of wildlife and their habitats.

"It means a lot to be to be able to contribute to something so amazing," said the 43-year-old May.

"I admire Jane Goodall so much. It's such an honour."

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She will meeting Goodall, a pioneering primatologist and conservationist, at her birthday bash on Sept. 10 in Austria. She will also be meeting the 16 other artists from around the world.  

The Saint John artist started painting in June 2018. She purchased some used paints at a yard sale about six years ago. 

She was planning to get rid of the paints. But before she did, May decided to experiment. She started with painting a human eye, then she went on to painting animals and humans from photographs. 

"Now that I started, I can't stop."

She's painted lions, bears, deer and even puppies and sells the finished works herself. 

I feel there's a connection people have with the world around them and wildlife. - Melissa May, artists

"It's sort of taking over my life now."

May said she loved to draw in high school, but she never picked up painting until now.

"I just didn't pursue it because of a fear of failure," she said.

May learned from a fellow artist on Instagram that there was a call for artwork for Goodall's birthday bash. She inquired about it and figured it was only for European artists — given the ad was written entirely in German. 

Michelle Valberg

At first, May didn't want to apply. 

But then her friend encouraged May to apply and a few days later, she received an email that announced her acceptance.

"Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and ignore any fears or self-doubt and just put it out there," she said. 

"You just never know what's going to happen."  

Knowing Goodall is a well-known primatologist, she submitted a painting of a gorilla. The painting is called Contemplation because the animal appears to be deep in thought. 

"I felt there was a longing almost in the eyes," she said. "I tried really hard to capture that."

Melissa May

The painting also symbolizes Goodall's work with the animals, her feelings about primates and her struggle to create awareness about conservation. 

"I feel there's a connection people have with the world around them and wildlife," said May, describing herself as an environmentalist and animal lover.

"It's something that means a lot to me, so it kind of makes sense to continue on that path."