Michele Oka Doner is one of the lucky ones.
The one who accessed a calling from within and acted on it,
who allowed the images of her mind to work the movements of her hands,
the one who has a driving passion to create.
Oka Doner has an artistic oeuvre, which yields sculpture, furniture, jewelry, public art and functional objects.
I often select furniture pieces for large public spaces when working with my clients.
The bronze Radiant Disk Table and Ice Ring Bench, seen above, is a governing choice in my proposals.
She is represented in the public collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Detroit Institute of Arts,
American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, among others.
Oka Doner has said, “Religion and spirituality exist all around us, binding humankind and nature together in dialogue;
art and design becomes the language for our conversation.”
Enjoy The Good Company of the widely celebrated Michele Oka Doner
in our conversation and short documentary video, From My Street, filmed by Roland Hagenberg.
D: Best lunch spot?
MOD: Pearl’s Oyster Bar on Cornelia in the West Village. The Pearl Caesar Salad is full of garlic. The fried oysters are both briny and crispy. I love sitting at the counter and watching the action in the kitchen. Sometimes, I will end the meal with a hot fudge sundae.
D: Best working tool?
MOD: The Staedtler MARS graphic 3000 duo in black, of course. This pen has a brush on one end and a fat marker on the other. I have used other colors, like mahogany for specific projects, but the black is standard. We order them by the box.
D: Favorite Museum?
MOD: The Wolfsonian in Miami Beach. The Wolfsonian is a splendid container for the most unique collection in the country. Works of art and design are used as material culture instead of aesthetics as a curatorial lens. My favorite part of the museum is the ah-ha moment I feel as I enter the 1920’s restored structure and face the Norris Theatre Facade, a deco masterpiece in green and gold tile that was installed when the building was converted into a museum. I always throw a penny in the fountain beneath the floral motifs and make a wish. They all come true.
D: Favorite color combination?
MOD: My favorite color combination has always been black and gold. I think that comes directly from studying ancient Egypt and the exceptional inlays of both ivory and gold into ebony in the objects Carter discovered in Tut’s tomb. These publications were in our home when I grew up. Years later, when I was a student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I attended the first blockbuster exhibition in Chicago when the objects traveled to the Field Museum. We drove five hours and then waited in line. That was devotion!
D: What is your working studio like?
MOD: My studio is an open plan in an old button factory converted to loft living over three decades ago. The high ceilings allow for long windows, and the natural light is pervasive. The loft itself functions as a cave, where spaces are differentiated by use, instead of walls. One section of the original floor has been kept untouched. I can see where the machinery was dragged out of the factory when the building changed hands in 1979. I keep my own heavy equipment, like the kiln, in this area.
D: What do you do in your spare time?
MOD: Who has spare time? I walk. I love to walk. I was probably a nomad in another life. My idea of a great day is when I name a desirable destination and set out on an adventure by foot. Ten miles is optimum. This is not fast walking. It is more like exploring. In Miami and New York in the summertime, I create the longest and most exciting journeys. I do love walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, anytime. I like the wood underneath my steps, the view, the water rushing underneath, and the poetry of many who have extolled the wonders of this iron sculpture.
D: What is your signature look?
MOD: I like leggings. They are so comfortable. I also enjoy dresses. I have several uniforms I stick to in order to simplify my day. They all involve a body suit of leggings and a Hanro undershirt. Over this ensemble; I throw either a silk dress that is caftan-like and lets me move around easily or a jacket over the leggings. Weather dependent, I add a sweater under the jacket or a shawl over the dress and out I go. I stick to solid tones like most New Yorkers. Few accessories, mostly my own designs. Fitted dresses are saved for evening gowns
D: Where did your creative journey begin?
MOD: My maternal grandfather was a fresco painter trained at the Imperial Academy in Odessa. He studied at the National Academy when he arrived in NYC during the first decade of the last century. His paintings dominated my childhood. My mother had a great design sense and an artistic personality. She brought home bolts of fabric from every voyage, unset stones, and beautiful papers. I watched her transform these raw materials into creations that were beautiful. Everything she touched, including the dining room table, was curated and considered.
D: Favorite sandwich?
MOD: I try not to eat sandwiches! That said, when Olives, the take out place for lunch in my neighborhood, offers the avocado, sprout, red onion and white cheddar cheese on seven-grain bread as a special, I give in. This sandwich manages to hit every sense. It is soft, tangy, crunchy, and surprising.
D: Favorite charity?
MOD: Publicolor. Hands down, this wins, as one never feels better than when you depart from the high schools where the Color Club transforms drab into a bright future. I love to paint with our terrific New York school kids. Ruth Shuman has done an amazing job of energizing students and fellow citizens into an army with a paintbrush. I team lead every April when Publicolor has their yearly fundraiser.
All photographs copyright © Michele Oka Doner.