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Interview with the Artist: Michael Oliveira

Text and Photography by Melanie Bernier

Detail of Michael’s embroidered portrait of artist Kayla Johnson.


Working silently at a desk, seated in his wheelchair, Michael Oliveira is very clearly an artist dedicated to productivity. He slowly and methodically needles his work, typically taking up to 20 seconds to complete a single stitch. Given his process, it’s no surprise that it’s taken him over four years to complete this piece, an embroidered portrait of fellow Gateway artist Kayla Johnson. Today, as he lays down his final stitch, his hard labor proves well worth the effort.

Michael typically works on this piece every Monday afternoon in Weaving studio. His instructor, Jenine Shereos, took her position as Weaving Studio Facilitator a few months after he began this piece. While she can’t speak to his initial impulse to create the portrait, she describes how he has come to her studio every Monday afternoon and gotten straight to work: wheeling to his cubby to pick up materials, and finally settling in an empty spot at one of the work tables.

He’s an extremely independent worker. Michael has developed his own embroidery method that results in a unique surface texture of contrasting thick and thin linework. Jenine, who is herself a fiber artist, says the aesthetic of his stitching is unlike anything she’s ever seen.



Michael poses with his embroidered portrait, finished a few minutes prior.

We caught up with Michael right as he announced “I’m done!”:

Gateway: So you just finished this piece in weaving. Congratulations! How did you make this?

Michael: I drew Kayla first, then I (embroidered) the head outline black, then the ears, this one then this one then this arm, the leg, the other leg, the arm, then the mouth and teeth and nose. The eyes too.

GW: They look really nice. How did you decide which colors to use?

M: Kayla’s eyes are brown and her nose, too. And she has white teeth.

GW: And what about her arms and legs – why did you decide to do them blue and red?

M: I don’t know. I just like to draw them blue.

GW: What made you choose Kayla as a subject?

M: She’s a friend.

GW: You like doing portraits. What is it about portraits that you like best?

M: I like to draw the other clients here.

GW: What choices do you make as you work? Do you select all the fabric, the colors of thread?

M: Yea, I pick the colors (of embroidery thread) and put them on the fabric (that I choose).

GW: How long did this piece take to complete? A few months? Years?

M:  I don’t know when I started.

GW: So what is this piece going to be?

M: A pillow.

GW: What are you going to work on next?

M: Maybe David (O’Toole, fellow Gateway artist – ed)

GW: What’s the best part about being an artist?

M: You can do art like a drawing, painting, and stuff in pottery. I am doing a bear in fabric. I drew it, then I sewed the eyes brown, the ears brown, all around.

GW: Is there anything else you want to say about Gateway?

M: I love coming here (BIG smile).

By the end of studio time, Michael has begun his next piece: an embroidered portrait of David O’Toole.

Jenine will turn the completed embroidery of Kayla into a decorative throw pillow, which will be for sale in our craft store soon.

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