Creator Series: Michael Michaud
A core component of Heirloom Art Co. is our product. Inspiring stories, traditions and lovely photos are exciting and helpful, but for us the product must first speak for itself. We are always looking to identify products that are beautiful, useful, filled with meaning and well made. In this process we have come to learn that the true discoveries are the wonderful people behind the product. Long dead or alive and well, alone or in a bustling factory, these artisans breathe life into the object of their creation. It is no wonder that our desire over the years has shifted slightly from wanting to showcase amazing product to an eagerness for the processes and preservation of the craft.
We hope to fill our shop with things that enhance the way you live, charm your home, and delight you in simple ways. We believe there is a certain light that radiates from something crafted by the human hand.
Truly creative endeavors are rife with human goodness and a touch of magic. From experience, we have learned that if the artisan has a depth of knowledge, innate goodwill, and real creative light within them, somehow a bit of that can be infused into the object created. Then as a customer or buyer, instead of simply partaking, we become patrons of the art. By purchasing and using the object in our homes, or giving it as a gift, we take part in sharing some of that knowledge, goodness, and creative light among those we love. We become an integral part in the creative process through monetarily sustaining the craft and creatively using the product.
A truly great product will become an extension of our own hand or home. The perfect whisk for example is an inanimate tool until we pick it up and whip an egg into an omelette. A piece of art takes on life as you walk past it each day, pause to appreciate the beauty, nudge the corner up slightly after a bit of roughhousing and notice a shimmer of gilding on your thumb as you walk away. Suddenly you are more than an appreciator but a creator yourself. Where did you hang the painting? Who did you hope would see it regularly? What did you hope it would say to them? The magic in the object is spread first to you and then to those you love and cherish.
Over the years we have discovered and shared some amazing product. We have discovered that behind every truly remarkable creation is an even more remarkable creator. Some of these crafts are thriving and ripe for pursuing, others are dying and begging for the next protégé. We hope this series leads to more of that creative light stirring within you. Perhaps the magic of one will call you? What are your hands, those sacred instruments, truly capable of?
About a year ago, Chelsey and I were strolling speedily through the many stories of the Las Vegas Gift Mart. We have a love/hate relationship with trade shows, and it shows in our methods. We only ever give ourselves a day and so we cruise, stopping only to say hello to friends, breezing through showrooms waiting for something to catch our eye. Never before have we been stopped in our tracks with as much force as the day we stumbled upon Michael Michaud’s orange blossom earrings. First one beautiful piece and then another, and another. It felt like a mystic transportation out of a windowless building and into a breezy orchard on a lazy afternoon. We both fell hard.
Growing up on an idyllic little farm nestled in the middle of suburbia has charmed our lives. Our grandparents planted eighty pear trees and raised Haflingers right in our front yard. The blossoming of the pear trees feels like a spring parade, and it never passes unnoticed among our clan. Perhaps it was this very childhood mingled with our desire to share it that prepared us for discovering Michael’s work and feeling it resonate so deeply. What experiences so charmed Michael to spend a lifetime working his magic to preserve and share the perfectly imperfect specimens blooming around him?
Cultivating Talent, Skill and Passion:
Uninterested in academics Michael left home in Connecticut for Manhattan. Drawn to the jewelry industry, which was alive and well downtown in the 70’s, he took a job as a mold cutter. He trained at the bench of a Native American man who died tragically in a motorcycle accident leaving Michael as the head cutter at a young age. He learned that casting and creating molds was the lifeblood of the jewelry industry, allowing designers to reproduce their work through lost wax mold creation and silver casting. He spent three years perfecting the art, cutting his hands nearly every day in the process, ultimately determining he didn’t want to be a mold cutter for the rest of his life. He left his job and entered a program at The School for American Craftsmen at RIT in Rochester, New York.
RIT was funded by Kodak Eastman and upholds to this day a tradition of craft. He fell deeper in love with his craft under the guiding tutelage of Professor Hans Christensen who was also director of design at the famed Danish jeweler Georg Jensen. After graduating Michael was still unsure of his path but accepted the casting supervisor position at his previous company where he was innovating and truly pushing the boundaries of his ability.
One day a friend asked him if he could cast a bunch of grapes. He accepted the challenge and successfully captured the delicate fruit. This opened a world of possibility. He worked just a few blocks from the flower market and began casting any bloom that caught his eye.
He learned that “The wonderful thing about flowers and leaves is that so many people can identify with them.” He opened up his own shop in 1992 working in silver.
Perfecting the Craft:
Now that he found a niche that could sustain his work, he began to discover more remarkable ways of expressing his real intent. He was always drawn to matte finishes, earthy tones and natural processes. When he began experimenting with bronze instead of silver a whole world of finishes and patina opened up to him. Bronze brought out the earthy colors of the organic material and he could manipulate his finishes to take on the organic life of a leaf or petal.
As he interacted with other craftsman and collectors at trade shows and events, he discovered other materials that inspired him. Bits of blue sponge coral begged to be shaped into blueberries and deeply dyed freshwater pearls were the inspiration for a cranberry collection.
His family began to influence his work. One of his sons decided he wanted to master the art of glassblowing and attended at Corning and at Urban Glass in Brooklyn. He started making beautiful beads and launched the Michael Vincent Michaud line with his son. Glass was incorporated into his own line. Now, gently tinted, beautifully shaped and expertly finished beads become ripe oranges, lemons, and delicate strawberry blossoms while also allowing for vibrant pops of color like these juicy looking strawberries.
Meanwhile Manhattan became too expensive to manufacture and warehouse so they moved operations to Long island. Michael settled about 75 miles away and the commute was no longer enjoyable. He built a barn with a loft space where his sons could work on the ground floor and he could create upstairs. Michael still struggled to stay away from the shop most days until COVID forced him to stay home and learn some new tricks. Now he only travels in one or two days a week leaving him time to create at home in the barn. Right where he likes most to be.
A Legacy to Leave:
We are not the first to discover Michael Michaud, nor will we be the last. His work has been worn by royalty and was used famously to evoke meaning on the lapels of Madeleine Albright and features in a book about her brooches. He regularly designs exclusive collections for museums like the Met and the Getty. We too hope to create a meaningful bond with Michael over the coming years. We hope to do more than promote his jewelry and tell his story. We hope to help it live on.
In his own words Michael shared with us the following:
So what about you? What about your daughter or son? Who might you know who is willing to learn the craft and carry on molding, and casting and preserving life and making connections the way Michael does. Perhaps we are all a little too worried about being original when what we need is a craft that gives a window into the Creators world by making an attempt to preserve the wondrous world around us.
Shop Michael Michaud pieces here.