Lake Norman & Mooresville

Woman creates a world of art from her dreams

Hilarious Hillary, the centerpiece at the Hilarious Hillary Art Gallery, is welcoming curious visitors as well as art enthusiasts.

The creation of Denver artist Anne Michael, she was conceived as a focal point for Michael's talk on women's issues and domestic violence for the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Knowing that the presentation was to be for a group of women seated in a circle, Michael wanted a visual construct that would command attention from any angle. After months of sketching, the idea came to her.

"I woke up one morning, and Hilarious Hillary was born," she said. "I worked on her for three months straight and about 40 hours, so when she was done, she was 40 hours old, with three heads, three arms, six legs and 7 feet tall."

To say that Michael is proud of her creation would be an understatement. "Hillary is the centerpiece of my art gallery," she said. "She is a keeper, a bizarre showpiece, a head-turner, a mouth-dropper and a good foot taller than most men."

Born in Charlotte, Anne Michael, 58, currently lives in the Westport area of Denver. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be involved in the arts. "My parents went on a trip when I was 5, and all I wanted was a pack of Crayola pencils and 3-by-5 index cards," she said. "I wanted the pencils because crayons were too messy. I would draw on the cards and rearrange them in little books to make different stories."

After winning national awards in high school for her art, she majored in art at UNC Chapel Hill, transferring after two years to Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned a BFA in communication art and design.

Following graduation, she edited, designed and illustrated two booklets for adolescents on the judicial system in Virginia, before moving to Houston, Texas, where she designed themed areas for Six Flags Amusement Park. Her next job took her to Richmond, Va., where she worked for three years as a medical illustrator, designing and building models of bodily organs.

In 1993, following other jobs in the fields of design and marketing, she began working as a freelance artist, which she continues to do in her studio in Red Rooster, a consignment shop on N.C. 16 in Denver. "I've been able to retire because I've worked since I was 16, when I was drawing caricatures at Carowinds for a summer job," she said. "Now I can focus on my long-time dream of writing and illustrating children's books."

"Producing a book is the culmination of everything I've learned," she said. "It involves arriving at a concept, choosing a character from several that I've created, developing the story line and then creating, publishing and marketing the finished product."

Her first book, "Wilbur ... A Little Frog's Dream", was self-published in 2010 and has sold 1,500 copies through Barnes & Noble bookstore in Birkdale Village, as well as in boutique shops in Denver. That was followed in 2011 by "Adventures of Sebastian and the Great Old Wizard," which she describes as "a book about a young boy who dreams about wacky incidents that come true."

She's never at a loss for new ideas for her artistic and creative endeavors. "I get a lot done because I never sleep. I was raking leaves at 3 a.m. on New Year's Eve because I don't have enough time during the day."

Where do her ideas come from? "I dream in vivid color about paintings and constructing things," she said. "Sometimes I think I have a toy box in my brain that I go to play with at night, and then during the day, there is that 'deja vu' that pops up and I remember things in my dream world. Then I create."

To help her remember, Michael said, "I keep a pen and a pad of paper under the pillow next to me so when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can record my dream, such things as details, colors and my whereabouts."

Michael's home reflects her artistic impulses. "The ceiling of my den is a painted mural, an old-world-style map of Lake Norman, with shoals, coves, markers and even street names." But that's not all. "My bathroom resembles a hen house, complete with a rooster crowing in the walk, and I have stained glass overlays across the front of my house."

Michael said that an artist can go one of two ways - the messy world or the clean world. "I work in the messy world," she said, "with paint, brushes, spills and smells, getting my hands dirty."

When she is not busy working in her studio or at home, she said, "I find ways to use my art. If I'm not paid for it, I'll do something for charitable causes, like the stained glass windows I created for the annex of my church, First United Methodist in Lincolnton. I've also done art work for the Rotary Club and for the Foundation for the Carolinas."

"I try to find ways to combine my need to write with my need to do art. If I do a mural on a wall, it's going to have a poem with it. I like to hide my words in my imagery, but I'll do art regardless."