Michelle Friend’s love of nature and art began as a child climbing trees to be one with the squirrels and birds who lived there. She tended to her own menagerie of hand-sculpted clay animals – complete with whiskers made from her own hair- and avidly applying herself in grade school art classes from which she practically needed to be forcibly removed to return to less creative studies. Her college education began at UC Berkeley as an art major, but she quickly learned that the avant garde zeitgeist of the day left little room for her interest in accurate anatomy and careful rendering of what she observed in the natural world. Michelle refused to adapt her artistic style to suit the subjective taste of her instructors and changed her major, first exploring interior design, but ultimately graduating with a degree in Communications and Public Policy in 1966.
Following college, a strong desire to free herself of student loans once again deferred Michelle’s dreams of being an artist, and for the next five years she pursued a variety of jobs, including flight attendant, secretary, and retail. Michelle was married in 1971, and a new home afforded her the opportunity to explore her talents in interior design. By the time Michelle gave birth to her daughter three years later, she had a part time career as an interior designer. Juggling work, motherhood, active involvement in her daughter’s school and the local Jewish Community, Michelle honed her artistic abilities at College of Marin and the California College of Arts and Crafts. Despite the fact that fine art had yet to become a career, art was never far from Michelle’s mind, and her desire to learn new skills led in some interesting directions. A study of Ukrainian Egg dying soon became a side business selling hand painted eggs at a store in San Francisco.
In 1995, a wildlife drawing class introduced the artist to her first experience drawing a cougar, the subject that was to become her focus for the next seventeen years and counting. Her first drawing of a mountain lion from a picture in a magazine quickly lead to another, and before long, the artist was determined to see one of these graceful cats in person. Michelle’s first encounters with big cats naturally occurred in zoos, but her passion soon lead her to Montana, where an experienced guide and mountain lion tracker introduced her to cougars in the wild. Not only did this experience engender in Michelle a profound respect for these noble animals, but it introduced her to mountain lion ecology and conservation. From habitat destruction, to agriculture, hunt ing, and even the captive animal trade, a whole new awareness of the plight of her favorite artistic subject began to inform her work. What began as a creative pursuit for pleasure’s sake quickly became a mission to educate the public about the value of America’s most maligned, feared, and misunderstood predator.
Years later, Michelle’s sensitive wildlife portraits have been exhibited at The Atrium Gallery and The Philanthropy Workshop West in San Francisco, The Folsom Zoo, The Oakland Museum, and The Pacific Grove Museum. Her now sprawling series of large scale graphite drawings of mountain lions form the body of her forthcoming major exhibition “Ghost Cat: My World,” and a book by the same name. Michelle hopes that her work will help to engender a new respect and appreciation for mountain lions as the necessary and beautiful part of the ecosystem that they are and to propel practical, grass-roots conservation of America’s last remaining big cat.
Michelle’s Website: Ghostcatmyworld.com