Local artist Melinda Peterson-Fluaitt a true ‘Jedi Master’

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Behind every successful Jedi Master, there’s a successful artist. Although she’s accomplished much during her career, Melinda Peterson-Fluaitt’s involvement in creating Star Wars characters like Yoda remains her most recognizable achievement.

A Rockford native, Peterson-Fluaitt moved to California in the early 1970s and began working with Jay Hildebrante Brothers Inc., a group of sketch artists and model builders. As one of the organization’s 92 crew members, she initially drew over other artists’ works. In time, she started creating her own original illustrations and eventually moved into clay modeling. A self-described “monster maker and creator,” she was involved with several movies during the 1970s and ’80s including Star Wars Episodes 5 and 6, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Howard the Duck, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal.

During this period of her career, she assisted in developing a number of key characters such as Yoda, Wicket Ewok, and Admiral Ackbar. She also designed movie posters and helped with makeup and costumes. Peterson-Fluaitt was able to collaborate and form friendships with many notable directors and actors, such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Jim Henson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and David Bowie. She described them as “perfectionists” with “very fragile egos,” but good friends and employers as well. “They’re all very down-to-earth actually,” Peterson-Fluaitt explained.

After sustaining multiple injuries from a debilitating car accident, Peterson-Fluaitt moved back to Rockford to recuperate. She was no longer able to use her left (and primary) hand effectively, which impaired her ability to draw. To fill the artistic void in her life, she began moving into the literary realm.

“After my accident, I decided that I needed another way to express myself, so I started writing poetry,” said Peterson-Fluaitt.

She began writing short stories and novels as well.

Recently, she applied for a copyright for Poetry Now and Then, a book that features poems she wrote from 1980 to the present. She describes the collection as a written account of her “journey through life” that covers everything from her youth to her marriage, children and current events, such as 9/11. Many of her works have been published previously, and she has earned several awards for her writing. In 2003 and 2004, she was named Poet of the Year and Shakespeare Trophy of Excellence winner by the Famous Poets Society. Most recently, she received the Lifetime of Excellence Award from Rockford College.

Peterson-Fluaitt also never completely left the film business. Over the years, she has served as a plotline consultant for a number of movies. She worked on the Star Wars prequels, contributing ideas for stories, dialogue, and characters. “I've been doing a little bit with Jar Jar lately,” Peterson-Fluaitt said. She has also submitted plot developments for the upcoming Indiana Jones production.

At the encouragement of her friends and colleagues, she has also begun drawing again. A year ago, she attempted to draw with her right (uninjured) hand and realized her talent was still intact. She has since immersed herself in art, creating black and white cartoon illustrations, true-to-life portraits, abstract pieces and a variety of paintings. Peterson-Fluaitt explained that quite a bit of effort has gone into her more recent works.

“I am using a combination of pencil, ink, acrylics and watercolors” she said. Sometimes I use acrylics for the undercoat and beginning, and then use a watercolor wash and dry brush for the succeeding layers. I’m experimenting with everything all over again.”

With a rejuvenated career in the arts, she's recently taken on a new role as a teacher for Underground Culture, an art school and supply store geared toward Hispanic artists. Look for a complete profile of Underground Culture in the next issue of The Rock River Times.

Peterson-Fluaitt is enthusiastic and ambitious about future artistic opportunities, but also grateful for her past successes. “It’s a long road, but it’s a rewarding one,” she said in retrospect.

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