Michelle Sider sees the world from a color and contour perspective, like many artists. But she also views her favorite scenes and vignettes in a unique, “chip” mode. How, she asks herself, can I create this subject I’m viewing with glass?
Sider is a mosaic artist who’s crazy about radiant glass pieces that, when arranged properly, create a stunning scene. Her artistry showcases brilliant light, golden sheens, and swaths of multilayered colors, all created with bits of glass that range in size from minuscule to large slabs.
“It’s the vibrancy of mosaics that I love; the materials are exquisite,” Sider says as she moves about her natural-light-filled home studio in Huntington Woods. “I love the vision required to be a mosaic artist. I have to see how the artwork will come together. Each artwork has personality.” Individual traits show up in everything from water-rich pieces in her heron series (which came about during the Flint water crisis) to sunset and sailboat scenes on the Great Lakes.
Sider, who received a fine arts degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Detroit, started her professional career as a pastel and watercolor painter. Then she decided to go into art therapy and psychology, and worked with children and families. “Art is a great vehicle for helping people,” she says. Following a life-changing accident, a light went on, she says, directing her to her next path.
“One day, after the accident, I’m lying there in bed thinking about what I love. I love to create art. So I healed, and then I became a high school art teacher at Frankel Academy in West Bloomfield.” About 15 years ago she became interested in mosaics, and explains she was fascinated with the Romare Bearden mosaic work (Quilting Time) at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She also became intrigued by community mosaics. It wasn’t until she retired seven years ago that Sider decided to create mosaic art full time. “In that decade of my life, I became more confident. I also had more to say and more experiences to help express aspects of how I see the world,” she says.
Most of the factories that make the glass Sider uses are more than 100 years old. Many are in the United States, while others are based in Italy. The tools she works with include the same style of hammers that Egyptians used, she explains. To place tiny glass bits into her work, she uses a nipper tool “for precision,” she says. “I’m a glass and nipper geek,” she adds with a laugh.
Born in Livonia and raised in Southfield, Sider has immersed herself in all things Michigan her entire life. “I’m a Michigander through and through, and am inspired by my surroundings,” she says. That inspiration is evident in her landscapes and nature series. “If I’m standing on the Lake Michigan shore and I see how the water reflects the sun, I’m moved to create. Or when I watch sandhill cranes walk — they’re so elegant, and I love the way they move. It’s that moment that I try to capture.”
Sider’s mosaic artistry involves several steps. “First I draw a study, and then I do a painting (which she adheres to the board canvas on which the glass is glued). Next, it’s time to decide what types of glass will be needed and which colors she’ll select. If she has pieces in stock, she’ll use those, but often she needs to fill in with glass she may not have on hand. “I’m lucky to live only a one and a half-hour drive from Delphi Glass Creativity Center in Lansing. I’ll pick up stained glass there; it’s generally a domestic glass. I also like to go to Italy and watch artisans make glass. Glass-making is an art form, and they make glass 24/7. There’s even a library of glass in Venice!” Sider often packs her suitcase with Italian goods; one time she says she brought home 72 pounds of glass — all bubble-wrapped, of course.
Beyond adhering the glass to the canvas board, Sider must make constant engineering and dimensional decisions on which angle of the glass will show. She likes to lay the glass in so that it conveys the feeling of painted brushstrokes. “I’m influenced by brushstrokes. I like to see the hand of the artist, so the glass is laid in a design that often feels like a brush stroke. And I’ve got to be sure it catches the light in a certain way, so the person who looks at it has a lovely experience taking in the piece.”
Looking toward the future, Sider wants to advance the light aspects in her Michigan pieces. “For reflections, I’m using different glass, so I’m pushing myself technically. I may have mist, too. I don’t have any limits on myself,” she says.
As if she’s reflecting upon the great blue heron’s fascinating flight capabilities, she adds, “I want to soar with this stuff!”
More information: Michelle Sider’s art can be viewed at michellesider.com. She also has works for sale at the Main Street Gallery in Leland and the Twisted Fish in Elk Rapids. Sider also does commissioned work.