For Students

In Focus: Michele Oka Doner

Michele Oka Doner, Drawing for Ancient Arb, 2009, Pencil and ink on paper, Gift of Michele Oka Doner in honor of Penny Stamps, UMMA

This large work on paper by Michele Oka Doner is a preparatory drawing for a public artwork commissioned by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in 2009. After the completion of the new hospital building, the drawing was donated by the artist to UMMA in honor of Penny W. Stamps, whose generous support has helped to raise the international status of the University’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, the alma mater of both Stamps and Oka Doner. The gift is a wonderful gesture of the artist—who relishes her years at the School of Art & Design—to honor its most avid donor.

Ancient Arb consists of two large, separate works, including a twelve-panel glass screen with an etched, sand-blasted surface, and a terrazzo floor installation with bronze fossil motifs, both of which are displayed in two separate locations at the hospital. As seen in the pencil part of this drawing, the screen has plant motifs floating in the semi-transparent vastness. They are fossils from Michigan’s Devonian period, found in the shale layer that formed about 400 million years ago. The two gold coral-like creatures, also prehistoric fossils, are drawings of some of the bronze elements embedded in the terrazzo floor installation. The richness of these ancient oceanic plant and animal lives resonate with the sea of green arbors viewed from the hospital windows. The work pays homage to the city of Ann Arbor, where the name was adopted from its abundant foliage.

Nature has always been a great source of inspiration for Oka Doner, which she attributes to growing up in Miami Beach, Florida. She once said in an interview, “It was extraordinary, as a child, to see objects, stones, shells, and minerals; it was the beginning of a lifetime romance, certainly a relationship.” For her commissioned, large-scale public artworks, she often uses motifs and shapes drawn from the natural and cultural histories of the location. In these works, she attempts to revive the ancient memories of the native land, restoring and reminding us of our relationship to nature.

Natsu Oyobe

Associate Curator of Asian Art

This recent acquisition will be on view in the first-floor connector between the Museum’s historic wing and the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing from January 12 to April 7, 2014.