Michael was born in the Southwest United States in the late 1960s.
Raised in the West
A childhood dyslexic, school was a challenge for Michael. Morning chess games with his mom before going to school kept his mind sharp. He was always taking things apart to see how they worked but didn’t do well with reassembly. Michael had a typical amount of childhood art classes, finding an affinity with ceramics in grade school.
Humor in the house
High school was a time completely void of art activities. Michael did not plan on attending college, but instead thought he would go into construction to drive heavy equipment. Even without immediate career goals, Michael’s parents were supportive and always kept things light with their playful sense of humor.
After high school
Michael’s stepfather (an artist) took the family on a once-in-a-lifetime safari trip to Africa. It was during this time that Michael became very interested in photography.
Inspired in the 90’s
Michael’s sister and brother-in-law had a small business photographing horses. He traveled around the country with them in an old 1950s Greyhound bus that was converted into a motor home. Being around two photographers inspired Michael to take his interest in photography more seriously.
Realizing that Michael had very little direction or focus, his stepfather Andrew encouraged him to attend the Art Institute of Chicago to learn more about photography. Without pushing or forcing Michael, the opportunity to attend college turned out to be a move that changed his life forever.
On the job fighting
While attending the Art Institute of Chicago, Michael had an internship at Photographic Conservation Associates, Ltd. The dynamic owner, Murray Mattenson, taught Michael solid darkroom skills and plenty about old school photography. More life changes took place as Murray took a shy young man and taught him to push hard against illogical establishments and always fight for his voice to be heard. As a martial arts expert, experienced hand-to-hand combat Vietnam veteran and retired sheriff with a degree in law, Murray pushed Michael to make himself heard visually and verbally.
After growing tired of spending endless hours in the darkroom and experiencing difficulty with his vision, Michael looked outside the photography department for his niche. It was in the ceramics department that he found himself feeling most at home. Michael’s stepfather gave him two profoundly important gifts early on. The first was a mechanical drafting set which Michael used to make many drawings for inventions he sought patents on in high school. The second was a very small pocket-sized book on Rene Magritte. The Magritte book forever changed how Michael formulated his creative ideas. Now, he only needed to develop the technical skills to construct them. While at the Art Institute, one of his instructors introduced him to mold making and slip casting. Thousands of pounds of plaster later, Michael realized mold making allowed him a unique way to create his artwork. This picture is of a ceramic porcupine that was built using hundreds of Michael’s fingers cast in clay.
After graduation, Michael took a weeklong trip to upstate New York to work with a family friend who was a sculptor, Rocco Armento. Rocco was generous to give him the time to learn some tips about rubber mold making using his own original work. It was a great week, one that made a huge impact on Michael’s interest in learning more about making rubber molds, something he did not do at all in art school.
First business venture
Michael was extremely fortunate to find a loft studio space after graduating from the Art Institute. The loft was a 7,000 square foot former ballroom in a converted 1920s hotel. The Lorali in Uptown Chicago was, and still is, a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) for Section 8 government-supported housing. Michael and two of his roommates slowly converted the loft into a useable space by salvaging materials from construction sites and putting all their dollars into building materials. It was here that Michael’s first business, Mold Making and Design, Inc. was born.
Michael’s background in ceramics did not translate well into making a living. To survive, he used the job board at the Art Institute to dig up anything that was 3D-related. It started with small projects like making giftware, and expanded into making toys, sculpting trophies and architectural restoration. Every job was different and required Michael to teach himself how to use various mold making and casting materials to complete each project.
After five years of very exciting but stressful business ventures, Michael had accomplished many notable achievements and a moderate level of success. However, he found himself feeling extremely burnt out and looking for rest. With a desire to get back to his own artwork, Michael closed the business.
With uncanny timing, a family friend needed someone to look after his country home in rural Illinois during a prolonged medical illness. What was intended to be a short winter and spring stay turned into a three year “Walden Pond.” To date, the time spent at this house has been the most critical artistic influence in his life. It was during this time that Michael was able to reconnect with nature, reduce his stress and focus on his personal art projects.
At this point, Michael had acquired the technical knowledge to manipulate shape without restriction. Endless hours at the library allowed Michael to saturate himself in the study of art history, architecture and other creative arts. The country home was built in the '30s and was very well-made with quality accents and fine furnishings. Living in this environment allowed Michael to absorb the aesthetic of the house, its substantial quality craftsmanship and timeless qualities—all of which are key elements in his artwork. Although Michael and his cat Sadie were alone on the estate, every hour seemed to be filled with reading, meditation, writing, sketching, and sculpting. Within the three-year period he spent there, Michael wrote and photographed several technical books, conceptualized hundreds of sculptures, and completed dozens of works of art.
Back to business
During his last year on the estate, Michael partnered with his long-time friend, Bill Krypel, to form MudMen, Inc. Both men wanted to manufacture unique items for home and garden. Gradually, they shifted their efforts to more high-end work for museum and architectural reproductions. After two years of organizing the legal necessities to manufacture wall hangings for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation , they were put out of business as September 11th, 2001 caused all of their customers to cancel their Christmas holiday orders. With a warehouse full of inventory and no customers, they closed the business.
With an empty wallet, Michael needed to re-engage in normal, commercial business activities. One of his mentors offered him the basement in an apartment building on the south side of Chicago (Hyde Park) to make into a studio. It was not meant to be a long-term stay, but ultimately provided an affordable space to start a business over the next several years.
The kitty bunker
After spending years working on art and with limited income opportunities, Michael moved back to Chicago for a new start. The Hyde Park studio (aka the “Kitty Bunker”) was gradually set up and living arrangements were built in. This was a difficult time of rebuilding a business from scratch and readjusting to city life.
Glass to sugar
After spending a few years living in the studio basement, Michael was able to rent an apartment in Oak Park. He kept the Hyde Park studio and set up a small classroom at his friend’s glass blowing studio where he opened the Chicago School of Mold Making.
I am not a chef
Michael was fortunate to meet a very well-known pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacquy_Pfeiffer) while working at the glass blowing studio. The two became friends and introduced innovative new food shaping techniques to the pastry industry. Because of Jacquy’s influence in the industry, Michael had rapid opportunities to highlight his technical skills to a new audience. Michael’s contributions to the industry did not go unnoticed. Through his time spent traveling and promoting his trade to the pastry community, Michael was awarded many honors usually reserved only for professional chefs.
Just as Michael started the School, he met his future business partner, Beatrice Schneider, who used her marketing and creative design skills to promote Michael’s achievements in the pastry industry. Together, with the collaboration of five pastry chefs, they produced a 380-page technical book (Confectionery Art Casting – Mold Making for Pastry Chefs) in 6 months. (Photo note: Michael was the first non-chef to appear on the cover of Pastry Art and Design magazine).
After successfully launching and sustaining the Chicago School of Mold Making (read Michael's corporate biography), and many years of exhibiting and selling his work, Michael reorganized his priorities. Specifically, he turned his creative energy to more fully responding to his own strong, internal creative clockwork.