Michelle Edwards says, “it’s about found things, random art.” Multitalented Michelle’s jewelry and 3D art collections are currently showing in the Ian Russel Gallery on Whiskey Row. Tiny miniature creatures tell short stories in diorama form as Victorian-inspired necklaces hang nearby, complete with tiny bones and articulated spiders. After all, people, it's October!
This accomplished and charming woman, with a vast and varied level of talent, grew up a child of the ‘80s in Phoenix. She is studied in graphic design, film and theatre, and her creative talents are extensive and homegrown. She is a jewelry maker, a 3D artist and sculptor. She founded her own long-form musical improv company, Dangerville Productions, with friend and performer Jose Gonzales just after the turn of the millennium.
She is also a musician, comedian and actor, as well as a photographer, filmmaker and painter, and she does it all well, with a flair that is uniquely Michelle. She credits her early inspirations and subsequent development in the arts to the encouragement and influences of her photographer mother and her crafting grandmother. She says it started very early as she and her grandmother went “dumpster-diving” behind the local craft and hobby stores for found things, and made art. With never a specific list or project in mind, she creates from what she finds, as she did as a child.
She says she was drawn to Tim Burton’s aesthetic at age seven after seeing the film Beetlejuice. Her work has been shown in multiple galleries in central Phoenix, including The Paper Heart, Trunk Space and Space 55. She is also a co-founder of the Torch Theater in Phoenix, and taught art and acting from 2008 to 2018 at the Khalsa Montessori school before relocating to Prescott.
While sorting through some of her old necklaces, the inspiration to repurpose and create came once again. She ordered a jewelry-making kit online and started to comb thrift stores for found things that would enhance her creations. After making several she began to market them on Etsy. This latest endeavor has provided much cherished time for her family life and daughter Daisy. She routinely volunteers at Suze’s Prescott Center for the Arts in various technical roles, including set design, prop making, directing and instructing both youth and adults in acting.
When I asked what inspires her necklaces, she said that, in addition to the found things and Victorian-Gothic aesthetic, she had a recent black widow spider infestation. Since she loves living things, especially bugs and spiders, she decided to house them in glass jars rather than kill them. However, feeding and caring for them resulted in multiple fatalities, so she decided to preserve them and use them in her art. Using a technique she had learned in her teaching years from a curator of the Arizona Natural History Museum, she articulated spooky poses, covered them in resin, soldered them to metal and created pendants. These fragile creatures are now immortalized and available to wear.
The diorama projects are inspired by Cookie, her cat. Cookie brings in mice and birds that he has captured on a regular basis. Michelle cannot bear to throw them away, so once again she’s inspired to create art. Cookie’s dead offerings are now placed in a jar with a colony of desiccating (flesh-eating) beetles. (She says they’re cute and don’t eat live things). Once the bones are all that’s left, she fills tiny glass bottles with them and makes jewelry. She enjoys working with miniature things, and finds the concentration required a form of meditation. A recent collaboration with graphic artist and SPCA teammate Sylvia Ximi has led to some adorable stop-action films with Michelle’s taxidermy animals.
Inspired by a dollhouse that she has had for several years, Michelle creates scenes for her little creatures. She makes the furniture, decorates the rooms and places the characters inside. Some have doll heads, others have snake heads, and some are adorable little mice. Be sure to look at the online version of this article to see the stop-action film featuring her dioramas at 5ensesmag.com.
Michelle’s work will be featured at the Ian Russel Gallery through October.