by Sheldon Ocker
Michel Stewart is painting pumpkins outside her new gallery, where Wye Road intersects Granger Road in Bath Township.
Someone commissioned her to jazz up some pumpkins, so Stewart is hard at work. These don’t look like pumpkins you’d scatter on the front stoop for Halloween. If there were a way to hang pumpkins from a wall like pieces of art, that probably would be the way to go.
Stewart already has conducted a class or two in the morning before she opens her gallery, Michel Stewart Modern Art. Sometimes the classes move to evening after the gallery closes. She also has to carve out time to make art – the shop is filled with her work – and she has to preside over the gallery, tending to customers.
“I’m working all day long,” she said. “I’m here almost seven days a week. My husband will swing by, just to wave at me.”
Art as a labor of love is an understatement for Stewart.
“I wanted to own a studio all my life,” she said. “When I was younger, I was really interested in art, but I wasn’t allowed to study art.”
Stewart said her entire family was in the education business. Her uncle was superintendent of schools in Cincinnati, where she grew up. Her aunts and uncles were administrators and teachers.
“I asked my uncle [the superintendent] – I come from a big family and everybody is in on decisions – and he said, ‘No, honey, there’s no money in art, just stick with education.’ That was the decision.”
Stewart’s parents backed her uncle, at least for awhile. Instead of taking no for an answer, Stewart covered an exterior wall of the family home with graffiti.
“Finally, my parents told me to go ahead,” she said.
“To this day, our home of 59 years still has my graffiti from 1974,” Stewart said. “My dad won’t let anybody paint over it. He’s so proud of it.”
But Stewart never did earn a degree or other certification in art.
“I never studied it, but I took a lot of private lessons,” she said. “Growing up, I was involved in a lot of courses.”
Now the self-taught artist confidently teaches others.
“I could basically teach everything,” Stewart said. “I teach basically what nobody else teaches. You can’t find it in other studios. I like to work with resin and a lot with stone and crushed glass and gemstones. I do mixed media collage classes. I make my own textured paste, and I do texture on canvass.”
Her classes are adult-only because some of the materials she works with could be harmful if mishandled by children.
Because of the materials Stewart uses, she often buys internationally.
“I met a couple that lives near the Himalayas,” she said. “They live right at the base of Mt. Everest. She sends me all of my crystals.”
Stewart’s family has Middle Eastern roots, and many of her relatives still live in Arabic countries.
“When my family comes to visit – from Egypt, Iran, Iraq – they bring me material,” she said. “The gold I use is all 22 carat; I get it from South Korea.”
Stewart said many of her pieces are priced modestly, from $60 to $125. Other works can range to $3,200 or more.
Stewart and her husband Rob were married two years ago. They began looking for a place to live – he is from Solon – and were taken with Bath’s rural feel.
“Both of us loved Bath,” she said. “And when this location [for the gallery] became available, we couldn’t pass it up. It spoke to me.” ∞