When Michele Benedict took her first art class at 23, she had no idea where that whim would lead. A newly married Air Force wife in San Bernadino, California, she began studying oil painting at the invitation of a friend’s mom. After a move to Dayton, Ohio she began to teach a few art classes. The next duty station was back west to Albuquerque, N.M.
“By now, I’d figured out that I could offer art classes no matter where Rett was stationed. I continued to paint for myself, too, and my work evolved,” she explained. “I continued to study and to teach. I recruited students and found locations to hold classes.”
“When we got posted to northern Virginia in the early 1980s, I used my art background to help me get a job in the image consulting field. I found that the materials we were using did not have the necessary artistic principles and fundamentals in them,” Benedict commented, “so I wrote a book on image and personal style incorporating these aspects and became a speaker at conventions across the United States.
“Once again, we found ourselves back in Albuquerque. This time, I decided to focus on teaching art classes to kids. And to make sure the medium was safe for them, I moved to using acrylics. I like to paint big and it turned out that I loved working with acrylics,” she laughed. “I had 65 students in seven classes, most of them after school. I also used my previous image consulting work to help my students develop their own personal palettes. It was extremely satisfying to see their skills improve.”
“On the personal side, I also explored abstract and symbolic subjects, venturing away from realistic depictions,” she reflected, noting that this was a pivotal point in her artwork and resulted in an exhibit of 55 paintings representing a “Celebration of Life.”
Benedict added that she also loves texture. It was in Albuquerque that she began experimenting with mixed media collages using fabric as a foundation layer and adding stones, jewelry pieces, metal objects, yarn and other items, creating decorative and symbolic motif. “I made the rounds to the fabric and craft stores each week, picking out items that interested my eye. Today I have a room full of materials from which to choose elements to create what I call “Wall Gems,” she said.
“These days, I’m concentrating on smaller pieces because I and many of my friends and neighbors only have smaller wall spaces left,” she laughed. “I often have two or three projects in progress at any time. I draw inspiration from nature and the earth around me. I collect things I like and then play with placing them together in interesting combinations to see what happens.”
Benedict noted the value of classes and continued exploration. “We take classes to learn technique and master skills. We use this core knowledge to help shorten the trial and error period. Then we can expand beyond what we learned to find ourselves and to understand ourselves better. This is the core of creative expression. That’s what resonates deeply with me.”