Albion shares a connection with its sister cities in France, Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly. These two exurbs of Paris have something called the Impressionist Walk, where anyone can walk through the city and see where artists, such as Monet and Pissarro, painted certain paintings.
Michael Dixon, department chair of Albion College’s art department, says that this was the inspiration behind his new pop art project for Albion.
“The idea is to pick [portraits of] people from the community,” he said. “It’s art where art doesn’t exist. This is a public art project. These are paintings that will eventually live outside somewhere, preferably in places where you don’t expect them to.”
Dixon’s project already has eight of what will be 20 paintings placed strategically around public areas of the city, where anyone can access them. They will be in neighborhoods, on the sides of businesses and on the sides of roads.
“So far, people are pretty excited to be a part of it. I think I’ll have an easy time finding 20 people,” said Dixon.
Dixon wants his art to be where art doesn’t normally exist.
“There’s a certain income and class level that have access to museums on a regular basis, and with the location we have in Albion, there’s not easy access to a museum near here,” he said. Dixon wants everyone within the community to feel that this art is for them and not just a select few.
Dixon said that the people he picked for these portraits are people he believes genuinely love, and are genuinely loved by, Albion.
“It’ll be a hodge podge of people eventually, but I’ve targeted specific people that you would know who these people are if you live in the community,” he said.
Before Dixon painted his subjects’ portraits, he asked them what it was that they loved about Albion. Their responses will be included in a small description with the finished paintings.
“It’s art out in the world, but also spreading this message of love of Albion. I live in Albion, and it’s a great community,” he said.
Michael is assisted in this project by Albion College students. They helped to complete the paintings after Michael started them. Middle and high school students from the Big Read worked on the art, as well.
He thinks that the project will extend to summer. Dixon has been able to work with the City of Albion on finding homes for these portraits.
He also plans on some artwork being on Albion’s campus to encourage college students and community members to travel to areas in Albion they might not usually go to.
All portraits are planned to be connected by an app that can explain each painting’s history.
Some of the people Dixon has painted portraits of so far include Cliff Harris, a chemistry professor at Albion who started Blues at the Bohm and Walk the Beat; Diane Guenin-Lelle, a French professor who is instrumental in Albion’s Sister City Committee; Juanita Solis-Kidder, president of Citizens to Beautify Albion, a project that involves work on the community garden and planting trees in the Spring; Bob Dunklin, President of Albion’s NAACP chapter; and his wife Mae Ola, a retired Albion schoolteacher on Albion College’s Board of Trustees.
Guenin-Lelle is excited about the project. As a close friend to Dixon, she was excited to be chosen as one of the portraits for the work. In fact, she did not even realize that she was going to be featured in the project until she was approached by students from the Big Read celebration.
“That’s where it gets to be a little embarrassing,” she admitted. “I don’t like the way I look, but I will sacrifice myself for the greater good,” she said, laughing.
However, Guenin-Lelle was happy to be involved in the project. “I loved it. We actually have some of his paintings in our house, and I have a real appreciation for his immense talent, and his ability to make really original connections between his concept and his final productions.”
She thinks that the project is important for Albion because of the richness of the community. Speaking of the other portraits featured in the project, Guenin-Lelle said.
“Being around these people, they have enriched my own life,” she said. “They are such giving, engaged people. I really value working with other people and cultivating a sense of community.”
Dixon said that he also hopes this project will heal some of the division between the town of Albion and the college.
“I have included the people who work at the college and live in the community,” he said. “I’m hoping to put people from the college out in the community and people from the community here at the college as a way to try to bridge that gap.”
An ideal location for a portrait? Dixon said he instantly thought of the small book park next to Biggby. He also has his sights set on Victory Park and some of the buildings in the downtown area.
The portraits can be found in Dixon’s Washington Gardner studio.
Correction: A previous version of this article spelled Bob and Mae Ola Dunlkin’s last name as “Duncan.” Changes have been made.