Michelle Sider
Michelle Sider (Eli Sider)

A particularly difficult section at Kensington Metropark in Milford — since fixed — became Sider’s inspiration for a semi-abstract mosaic series titled “On the Side of the Road,” which has her colorfully reimagining crevices and strands along public pathways.

Michelle Sider, an avid recreational biker around Michigan, unsurprisingly has encountered many deteriorating roads. As a result, she relates to current talk about state and national initiatives regarding infrastructure in general and “fixing the damn roads” in particular.

Sider, also an avid professional artist, came to take an additional direction in infrastructure activity and thought. She fixated on creative possibilities applying techniques of her current preferred medium — mosaics — as a result of what she experienced.

In 2018, when potholes and enlarging cracks regularly forced her to slow and stop on whichever bike route she pedaled, this Huntington Woods resident moved away from bemoaning the obstacles to focusing on colors and patterns formed by those obstacles — whether pavement or associated vegetation and debris.  

A particularly difficult section at Kensington Metropark in Milford — since fixed — became Sider’s inspiration for a semi-abstract mosaic series titled “On the Side of the Road,” which has her colorfully reimagining crevices and strands along public pathways.

Images from Michelle Sider’s “On the Side of the Road”
Images from Michelle Sider’s “On the Side of the Road”

“At Kensington, I instantly decided to turn my unique experiences into artistic statements,” said Sider, 61, whose interest in art started in preschool, was encouraged at Groves High School, continued through studies at the University of Michigan and was passed along during a teaching position at the Frankel Jewish Academy and independent projects that have brought much recognition.

In Search of Patterns

“Instead of just riding my bike, I went in search of the patterns created by crumbling pavement, asphalt, tar, strewn rocks, debris, grasses and other materials. What I found in the midst of the unfortunate state of our roads was a start for developing semi-abstract beauty as derived from my imperfect surroundings,” Sider said.

Sider, who worked on paintings before prioritizing mosaics, labors in a home studio according to a defined process she developed.

After picking out a specific site of interest to her, Sider takes many photos from different angles. She uses those snapshots to move into drawings with adaptations she believes will make the final mosaic appealing to viewers. 

Deciding on colors comes with the development of acrylic renderings that will anticipate textured add-ons, which could include stones, metallic objects and other items found at the specific location. 

“One thing about mosaics is working with reflectivity,” Sider said. “I put pieces of glass and other shiny objects at specific angles, so they catch the light, whether sunlight or artificial light, at different times of the day. Pieces can change colors depending on how the light is hitting them.”

Although Sider enjoyed painting in pastels, she changed to mosaics because of the added materials and moving from two dimensions into three. Color choices, just like in two-dimensional paintings, would still be important, most significantly because of the creative aspect of the semi-abstract approach.  

“During this process of artistic expression, I found myself contemplating our relationship with the Earth,” Sider said. “I began to see this organic wearing down of materials in a holistic way, contemplating the progression from nature to man-made materials and back to nature in a never-ending cycle.

 “‘On the Side of the Road’ fits into my body of work because I’m a Michigan woman through and through, observant and taking inspiration from my environment. I’m always interested in how I can make a dynamic, interesting composition with a sense of movement.”

Multitude of Mosaics

On commission, Sider has made realistic mosaics that capture people’s favorite spots in the state. She has used a series of photographs to plan the image replication of a lakefront family cottage. In another project, a lakefront homeowner, transfixed by herons, led to Blue Heron, which will be shown at the “ArtPrize” competition in Grand Rapids, running Sept. 16-Oct. 3.

Sider’s artwork also can reflect her devotion to Judaism, observed in younger years as a member of the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills and now as a member of Kehillat Etz Chayim in Huntington Woods. An earlier mosaic series depicts the plight of Yemenite Jewish refugees. 

Married and the mother of three grown sons, Sider was part of the Artists in the Schools Program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and facilitated mosaic projects now shown in synagogues and religious centers. Devotion to family interests motivated her to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at the University of Detroit.

Blue Heron
Blue Heron

With the goal of applying art therapy approaches for children coping with illness, Sider had a private psychology practice before returning to artistry full time. Along the way, she illustrated and co-authored two books with Rabbi Joseph Krakoff — Never Long Enough: Finding Comfort and Hope Amidst Grief and Loss and Never Long Enough Workbook/Coloring Book.

During the pandemic difficulties, Sider enhanced her own outlook by offering her mosaics for public attention. Among this year’s recognition was Best in Show at the “Take Me Away” exhibition sponsored by the New England Mosaic Society, participation in the “Women in Arts” exhibit at the Las Laguna Art Gallery in California and a feature spread starting on the January cover of Groutline, circulated by the Society of American Mosaic Artists.

On the roads again, Sider is so enthusiastic about her current series that she keeps one pavement project on display in her own home. Others from the series are on view at the Twisted Fish Gallery in Elk Rapids and her website, michellesstudio.com.

“I must create,” Sider said. “It is the essence of my being. I am continually thinking about how I can translate my experiences into art, and this process is gratifying for me. 

“The quiet concentration of working in my studio is very enjoyable as is the challenge of pushing myself with each piece to see if I can accomplish something new and then share my work with others.” 

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.