story and photos by Chrissy Alspaugh
What does it mean to be human?
For local artist and poet Michele Pollock, it means being led by passion rather than life’s more predictable paths. It means helping others wherever she can. Embracing life’s messiness. Smiling.
Michele’s studio awakens the moment her bare feet patter in. Rainbows of paper scraps suddenly scatter across her desk. She’s searching for the pieces that will breathe life into vellum sketches depicting whimsical animal musicians, dancing marionettes, and serene songbirds.
Michele is in constant motion, flowing from workbench to sewing machine, as her hand-stitched journals and destined-for-frame pieces emerge.
Flipping through a stack of notebooks in search of a drawing, Michele smiles at the improbability of locating any particular thing inside the mix of to do lists—poem fragments, ideas for art fairs, and a wide array of other “weird things,” as she calls them, with a laugh.
Unlike some artists who teem with creative genius but lack the skills to run an organized business, this Purdue University chemical engineer excels at both. Exiting her work space, Michele strides smoothly down a hallway grid of neatly framed applique collages. She lands momentarily at her computer, where Excel and PowerPoint keep her on top of Lost Lake Studio.
This is the side of Michele that hints at the life she lived for a decade as a scientist at 3M in Minnesota. She was researching asthma inhalers when she finally listened to her heart and began a Master of Fine Art program, studying among other things, poetry and book binding.
Michele returned to her home state of Indiana in 2007 and opened the studio in 2008. Today, her business has soared to a sales volume of about 2,000 pieces annually.
Just as she followed her heart into art, Michele’s work remains driven by passion rather than dollars. Pieces depicting the flora and fauna of Brown County readily reach clients—and she creates plenty of those—but her love of marionettes means her studio walls and fair booths also boast things like frogs playing violins and clowns wearing tutus.
Personal passion also has kept Michele interested, for nearly a decade, in a project called “What it Means to be Human,” a visual and poetic exploration of scientific and philosophical differences between humans and other species. She has created paper quilts representing DNA microarrays, collages examining humans’ unique link between tears and emotion, and she continues cross-stitching a piece depicting brain neurons firing. She acknowledges that the once grant-funded project ultimately represents her own search for the purpose of life.
Michele is ensuring that part of her purpose as an artist in Brown County is using her skills to better the art community as a whole. She is the volunteer press coordinator for the annual Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour, which this year will invite the public into 14 studios from October 1 to 31. She also helped Nashville secure an Indiana Cultural District designation, is a consigning artist and press coordinator at the Brown County Craft Gallery, a member of Art Alliance Brown County, has volunteered with the Brown County Playhouse, and currently is coordinating artist information for the Discover Brown County, Indiana mobile app.
Fellow Brown County artist Rosey Bolte said Michele always is eager to help, brings terrific energy and ideas, and “keeps the tour fresh for visitors.” Rosey said Michele deserves tremendous credit for drawing visitors to the community.
But to Michele, it’s just about returning the favor.
“I just feel so lucky to have fallen into this arts community,” she said. “If I’m in any way helping keep our community vibrant, that would thrill me.”