I misjudged Melody Peña, the modest artist and sculptor who is the creative heart of Windstone Editions.

I assumed that anyone who sculpts fantasy figurines would somehow view the real world through that fanciful gauze. Just as some members of the Society of Creative Anachronism bend their lives around the Medieval persona they portray at festivals and on weekends, I assumed that Melody would appreciate a bit of fantasy in my reports from the company’s new home in Corvallis, Oregon.

In my first draft for the Windstone blog, I took on the persona of an ancient traveler, a wandering scribe, who stumbles onto a land populated by fantastical creatures.

I wrote:

I have been taken captive by dragons in an emerald green valley in the Great Northwest. The conjurer of these beasts, Melody Peña, assures me that all her creatures are “domesticated” and will do no harm – and indeed, they do look well fed and properly tended. Nevertheless, the dragons, griffins and gargoyles in this sleepy little shire somehow hold me transfixed.

Perhaps I am not “captive” so much as “captivated” by Windstone’s mythological menagerie. They come in many exquisite forms with intricate detail and beautiful hues. Beside the dragons and griffins, there are unicorns, winged horses, flying cats, frog wizards and wolves in council. There is a llama hatching from an egg. There is an odd little creature called a “poad” that resembles nothing so much as a guinea pig wearing a parrot mask.

In that first draft, I played out the Wandering Scrivener theme to the end. Then I turned it in to John and Melody for their opinion. Melody considered my carefully crafted words then gave her critique in four simple words, “That’s not really me.”

The real Melody
To understand who Melody Peña really is, I had only to look around the upstairs office where she works. In a terrarium near her drafting table is a bearded dragon – not a fantasy dragon with a beard, but a living lizard called the “Bearded Dragon” (Pogona vitticeps). (Melody calls him Porkchop, but said that isn’t really his real name, which she can’t recall.) In a second cage is a red and orange corn snake named Rudy, which was adopted from a former employee who couldn’t keep it. Down on the production floor in a 6-by-6-ft. cage, an iguana named Guana perches on a high shelf, “sunning” itself over a heat lamp.

On shelves in her studio, Melody collects not only the mythical figurines she has created, but also the natural curiosities she has picked up over the years. A high shelf holds skulls of real animals – a donkey, a llama, a dog among them. When carving fantasy creatures, Peña refers to the natural examples, paying attention to the underlying anatomy, just as Michelangelo did.

Unreal naturalist
Far from the world of fantasy, Melody Peña works in the tradition of the naturalist illustrator. She is to the creatures of the fantasy realm what Charles Darwin was to the strange creatures of the Galapagos, or what John J. Audubon was to the birds of North America.

What makes Melody’s figurines distinctive – and popular among collectors – is their lifelike appearance. She has taken the seemingly opposite concepts of fantasy and realism and combined them to render fantasy creatures with natural realism – but always with her own twist. (For example, one slender dragon is based on a ferret. The mammalian traits give the reptilian creature a kind of cuddly warmth.)

The results of more than 30 years of artistry is a mythological bestiary that contains dragons of many shapes, colors, ages, sexes and sizes. But you will never see a fire-breathing dragon in Windstone’s catalog.

Animals don’t breathe fire. That would be unnatural.

Corvallis, Oregon