Several weeks ago, my dear niece Mia, called and asked me if I would mind being the "subject" of an assignment for her Freshman Writing course. The assignment was to write about someone whom you find "interesting." I was beyond touched by her sweet request and couldn't wait to see what she would write about. She sent me a series of questions to answer and, when she shared her final essay with me, well...let's just say that it was a good thing I had a box of tissues on hand! I thought I'd share this very special "gift" with all of you......
"Tante Mickey" & "Mia" circa 2002
The distant drive from Woburn, Massachusetts to Lewiston, Maine may seem tedious to some but she treasures it. The modest French Canadian town in Southern Maine is the muse of her work. Although she may make the trip to her hometown to visit family, it’s the beloved venture she embarks on every time she leaves that she enjoys the most. She travels the rocky, winding Maine Coast, amidst the majestic lighthouses and tourists to find her cherished materials. One may mistake her for a tourist by the way she frequently stops at advertised flea markets, but she is far from that. She gingerly walks amongst the locals, although she is one herself, taking her time to make sure she doesn’t miss any potential keepsakes.
What she is looking for is never specific. She herself doesn’t even know what she’ll find on any given day, but that is what makes her trips so magical. Amongst the discarded items, she finds white lace, lovingly worn rosary beads and re-furbished house keys. Abandoned antiques catch her eye. She sees potential in everything.
After strolling through the seaside antique fairs, she makes her way to the beach. The waves crash against the sand as if marking their territory on the rocky coastline. Although it is a mild day in March, the cool breeze awakens her senses as she meanders along the jagged coastline feeling the sand beneath her feet. Each piece of glistening sea glass, reflects the colors the sun has produced: colors of warm pinks, deep sea greens and ocean blues. She bends down and rubs her fingers along their jagged edges. Tossing back the premature pieces that aren’t yet lovingly worn by the seas’ thrashing waves, she continues to search for the ideal ones. She smooths her fingers along the aged pieces of glass.The fluidity creates no friction between her gentle hands and the glowing glass’ beauty. She carefully places the glass into a straw basket to save for later creations.
. . .
She defines it as a “muse”. The way she looks at life is from a perspective not seen by the everyday eye. Instead of viewing the world around her as a place composed of complete objects, she sees it as a place dwelling in possibilities. Looking at everyday objects, she wonders what else they could be. The potential of these objects are endless. Their natural beauty shines through to her. She thinks to herself, “How can I elevate the ordinary” in this piece? How can I add my own touch to this incomplete object? She looks at everything with a fresh eye. Others wonder how it is possible that she sees everything so differently from them, but she reassures them that it is simply because she “sees the world through different lenses”, lenses that transform the ordinary and makes them extraordinary.
To her the term “muse” has always been fascinating. She believes that “every creative person has a muse, or even two”. When asked what a muse is, she recites facts from an article she read a long time ago about nine goddesses who represented all things science and art. A muse is not always an inanimate object, but instead a state of being. “Muse can also refer to thinking deeply. If you muse about something, you’re giving it serious thought. You can’t muse in five seconds. People muse on certain ideas for years”. Her muse came to her at a young age when she noticed that “she would find something or someone that inspired a thought in her and then, it was almost as though her thoughts were no longer her own and her muse was using her heart and hands to create with”.
For as far back as she can remember, she was “tapping into her creative energy as if she were born with it”. While working on her pieces, she remembers back to Kindergarten when her teacher held up a piece of coloring book paper that she had colored and announced to the class: “Michelle has done a superb job of ‘staying in the lines’”. Often times when she makes the journey back to Maine to visit her childhood home, she takes the time to peruse through the baby books of her youth adorned with “pieces of art” that her mother has lovingly saved and cherished. The fading paper and dim colors still illustrate her love of art and she can’t help but smile and think to herself: “Wow… I really did show early artistic ability”.
Vividly, she remembers a time as a child when sitting in her childhood basement she found scraps of worn shingles her father had salvaged from an old barn. Urging him not to throw them away, she assured him that she could put these pieces to good use. On a sunny day, she made her way to the large yard behind the small Cape house she called home and picked blooming flowers from the grass. Pressing the smooth sun-bleached delicate pedals to the contrasting rough shingles, she carefully cut around family pictures and shellacked the pieces together to create a beautiful picture frame. The end result shined with her creativity and radiantly sat on the counter when presented to her mother on Mothers Day.
Her older sister, Julie, reflects back on a time when she and her siblings went to the beach for the day. It was a warm summer day and the family of seven retreated to the cool ocean, following the winding roads to the shore. She remembers her sister examining the beach for seashells as soon as they arrived. Bent over in the sand for the entire day, she collected every shell she could find: white ones that reflected the sand, brown tattered shells and ones tossed aside by others for their imperfections. Oblivious to the scorching sun, she steadily picked up each and every shell in her small hands and with her always-apparent creative eye assured her sister that she had something beautiful to make with the beaches’ jewels. Her back and neck beat red from the sun that day, but her persistence to get to start creating pushed her on. “Sitting crossed legged on the floor of the basement, steaming with the suns heat, she carefully assembled the sea shells into a circle, placing each one ahead of the other to create a beautiful necklace”. She beamed with pride at her creation.
Growing up, she was always passionate about her creativity but not until four years ago did she realize “how much” she was passionate about her work. She always enjoyed reading craft magazines, soaking up each and every creative idea printed, and imagining her work on every page. She knew that one day she would have her own unique work plastered on the shiny pages for other hobbyist’s eyes to see. Little did she know, that flipping through the pages one day would she be led to a website that would change her creative world forever.
. . .
She found the website “Etsy”, a website where artists could advertise and sell their creations to the world, while perusing a creative magazine. Intrigued with the concept, she immediately searched for the site. She was “amazed by the caliber of artists who owned shops on the site: a community of artists, creators, collectors, thinkers and doers” that allow its members to showcase their gifted creations to the public. She soon found herself setting up a shop of her own. She adorned the pages with her unique pieces. Place card settings and Inspiration Holders made of twisted wire & old doorknobs, small clay bird’s eggs rolled to ovals and painted with vivid blues, and antique cloth napkins stamped with vintage sayings and images. Necklaces of silver chains embellished with faded printed-paper and vintage watch faces, and bracelets of strung buttons and pearls that seem to whisper to their owner as they move along the wrist. Unsure of how popular her creations would be, she soon found collectors around the world purchasing some of her pieces.
Along with the site, she started writing a blog about her unique handiwork along with pictures of her creations. Stumbling upon the blog was the Editor in Chief of Somerset Life, A Stampington & Co. Publication. She soon received an email from the magazine inquiring about the pieces, saying they thoroughly enjoyed their uniqueness. She was flooded with excitement. The magazine had always been a favorite of hers, and to say the least, a personal goal one day would be to “submit some of her pieces to the publication”. What an honor to have the magazine, instead, reach out to her. The discarded old doorknobs that she fashioned into holders to hold photographs of loved ones or an inspirational quote, later made the cover of the magazine. She reflects back on the milestone in her career and saying: “It gave me national exposure and was a dream come true”. But being on the front page of the national magazine was not purely luck; it came from her endless years of hard work. She says it was the culmination of “hard work because she spent countless hours writing posts for her blog as well as creating, photographing and listing her pieces on the website. It took years before she got the email from the Editor in Chief”.
. . .
Her creative journey is far from over. Everyday she is faced with the battle of expanding her creative network. Part of her is content with being “one person, creating alone in her own studio producing pieces herself from start to finish”, but the other side of her struggles with the thought of “seeing her pieces produced on a larger scale so that they could be enjoyed by a wider audience”. She cherishes her homemade design studio . Starting off on the dining room table of her Colonial-style home in the Boston suburb of Woburn, she later created her ideal design space in a spare room of her home, adorned with all the materials she would ever need and carefully organized in compartments on the tables.
Clear plastic containers hold her beads and buttons, arranged in vivid colors as well as assorted metals. Wire used for tying, leather cording used as bases for jewelry and ribbon used for tying packages together, lay carefully wound on one side of the table. Stacked on the adjacent side are carefully torn pages from vintage books, used to package the creations in boxes, stamped with her title: “Petite Michelle Louise”. Her space creates a comforting zone for her creativity to flow without limits. If she realized the dream of having her own “brand” working as the creative head, she would lose the quaintness of her shop. This predicament she reflects upon daily.
Whenever she creates her pieces, she thinks of it “as a process”. Faced with various obstacles, she remembers her core values. She always remembers that “she has great faith and, with great faith comes the peace of knowing that, in the end, all will turn out as it should”. She’s learned that “obstacles can actually be what gives a person the strength they didn’t know they had to make the changes they really need. Obstacles force one to envision new beginnings and the courage to take a different path”. So wherever Petite Michelle Louise takes her creativity, it is quite apparent that her uniqueness will shine through.
By Amelia Burnes
University of New Hampshire
By Amelia Burnes
University of New Hampshire