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HER MILIEU: MICHELE OKA DONER

Does one aspect of designing and making art appeal to you most?

All of the endeavors derive from ideas that both stimulate and drive the work in my studio. How the ideas manifest themselves depend on the materials on hand, a time frame, a site of great interest, or an offer to exhibit or install. 

 

What always inspires you in your design work?

The natural flow of energy that’s palpable as I live and work.

 

The natural/ancient/prehistoric world figures into your works. Is there something from that ancient past that most influences you?

Yes! There was no art supply store. The gathering of materials was a creative process that engaged all of the senses. Imagine what it took to be the first Homo sapiens who used burnt wood to make a line, or fingerprinted with wet clay filled with red iron oxide.

A work of public art you admire?

The Brooklyn Bridge.

 

The one sight in New York you never tire of seeing or visiting?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

A room you have never forgotten?

One that lives in my imagination only: the lost Amber Room from 1716. It was dismantled and disappeared during WWII, never to be seen again. Many years ago the American Museum of Natural History attempted a recreation.

 

A piece of furniture that always draws you?

Venetian Grotto chairs.

 

Three people from the past you’d want to host at dinner in your home?

Alexander von Humboldt. Jung. Josephine Baker.

 

An institution or place that nurtured you?

The University of Michigan, which I attended, as did my husband. 

 

An object you cherish?

A small, relatively flat, rounded fossil stone, roughly the size of a silver dollar that contains a microcosm of embedded life. It was a gift from a very special person in Michigan.

 

An artist whose work you never tire of seeing?

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

 

A character from a book you wish could come to life?

Odysseus.

 

First work of art you go to see when you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

I turn right at the entrance and enter the Egyptian wing. The wooden priests reside there on the right side, stepping forward and stained with red paint.

Three designers, past or present, you most admire?

Lella Vignelli, Morris Lapidus, Eero Saarinen.

 

The one thing that really makes a house into a home?

A generous table.

 

A talent you’d most like to have that you don't already possess? 

Ease at speaking a foreign language.

 

The last gift you gave someone?

A limited-edition copy of my book, Intuitive Alphabet.

One thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m really shy.

Your hidden talent?

Being a helping hand.


What does the word “Milieu” mean to you?

Oeuvre.

 

PORTRAIT PHOTO BY BRUCE WEBER

INTERVIEW BY DAVID MASELLO

 

This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of MILIEU.