HUMANS OF KHN: Mychaelyn Michalec

HUMANS OF KHN: Mychaelyn Michalec

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Welcome to our second episode of Humans of KHN, featuring visual artist, Mychaelyn Michalec!

KHN Alum (2020) Mychaelyn Michalec invited me to invade her studio, KHN's Visual Arts Studio 2, last March on St. Patrick's Day, during her residency. During our photo shoot and interview, we chatted about 70's prairie style, textile arts, selfies, domestic life in the age of technology, and the perils of attempting to estimate yarn needs for very large projects. The following is our full interiew, and to see more photos from the shoot and more photos of her work, be sure to follow us on instagram, and watch for her 3-part segment!  

Humans of KHN: Mychaelyn Michalec

Interviewed by Sara Ammon, 3.17.2020

Sara - Mychaelyn Michalec interview... (regarding the initial voice recognition on Otter) It says Micheal and Metallic. (we both laugh) well, that’s fantastic, and wrong… 

Mychaelyn - ...on siri iit always says “My-shay-lin My-shay-lick” … 

Sara - It’s always awesome when programmable stuff doesn’t know how to pronounce your name….

Mychaelyn - I love how people tell me it just said they got a text from (air quotes) and then they would tell me how it was pronounced by their phone... (laughs)

Sara - We’re sitting in Mychaelyn’s studio right now. She’s been here for 3 weeks, and we’ve just been chatting and getting some photos… So, what did you want to work on while you were here, and what ended up happening? I know those can sometimes be different, depending on inspiration, supplies...

Mychaelyn - Sure. I guess my plan originally, which I did work on as well, is textile work, which is kind of new to my practice. I really wanted to work on some large scale textile pieces when I was here, so I had a chance to do that. That was my aim.  I just kinda got bogged down a little bit because I didn’t  realize how mammoth they would be … I decided to do a 6 foot by 6 foot rug, and then I was really surprised how much yarn it actually took (laughs)! Every day I would start ticking off how many thousands of yards it was taking, and I had a brief moment of panic because I bought a ton of yarn before I came and I was thinking, oh my gosh , I am not going to have enough yarn to do this! I originally wanted to work on THREE six foot textile pieces. 

I also had brought with me these embroideries I found at the thrift store from the 70s and 80s of women on the prairie - prairie style women like big full skirts, a bonnet covering most of their face, and so I started doing embroidery on these found pieces of images of myself and my own domestic life, on top of these prairie women. That's been labor intensive too. Because I was trying to follow the same sort of format of whatever the piece was, so a couple of them are punch needle embroidery so I have been doing that, which is pretty intensive to fill in. I have some other ones that are just line embroidery so those will go a little faster, when I get to them.

So that’s what I have been working on, and I pushed to do the prairie stuff more because obviously we’re on the prairie! I had to think about where I was. While I was here, I found a lot more pieces at thrift stores and stuff with prairie women on them. Prairie style was so popular,  the dresses, it all was a fashion in the 70s and 80s. Think about all of the dolls that were popular at the time: Holly Hobbie, Strawberry Shortcake, Raggedy Ann. They all had bloomers and prairie-style dress. I remember there were some embroidery pieces in our house growing up that had a girl in a bonnet in prairie style outfit on a swing or something like that. So much of feminism during the 70s and 80s was about recognizing women’s invisible efforts at home, their unpaid labor at home and giving them opportunities also to be out in the world. A lot of women were going out and having jobs, my mom never stayed home with us, she always worked, and so it’s just kind of interesting that that stylistically, the conservative prairie look was so popular during that era of feminism, so anyway. It’s a kind of self-reflection.

Sara - When I think of the early 80s, I think of big hair, money, wall street, “Putting on the Ritz” type stuff, synthesizers, AND then prairie bonnet girls and “Little House on the Prairie”’s like these two completely different worlds. I mean, that show was so popular. About the bonnets, art with prairie bonnets, not being able to see their face always felt kinda interesting to me when I was growing up, it was like I connected to the dress and the patterns and I always loved nature, so the floral patterns and the wheat and the prairie grasses and stuff, but …. Hidden faces...

Mychaelyn - I think it’s interesting. I have been pairing stuff because all of these are mostly women in profile and their faces covered, so you don’t see it, and pairing them with these weird selfies that I take of things going on around me or just closeups of me I happened to capture when I am taking my weird photos for domestic life. I was reading about prairie style dress and they were saying how it was actually …. well, one person’s opinion was that it was very, a very feminst movement, because women that came out on the prairie were actually coming out to do practical work. They had to keep things going on the homestead, and so the dressing of it was actually so that they could move. It was all very practical, so they do work and there wasn’t lall that constriction of the other ways of dress back east at the time, which is interesting to read about and think about.

I guess all of that stuff is what I am investigating, the weird embroidery stuff and myself with prairie women. 

Sara - Speaking on the prairie topic, what has been your favorite thing about being in this neck of the woods? 

Mychaelyn - I love the town. Honestly, I wish the virus shutdown hadn’t happened because I would have driven around and gone to a lot more things. I just felt really terrible to not be able to. I had planned to go ot Omaha and that got cancelled. I love the fact that this town is so viable, I guess, because the outer areas are more rural, so people are coming in to access services and goods here. I come from a town where we walk everywhere anyways, so I like that too about Nebraska City. I really enjoyed my time here, and I wish I could have stayed longer, I feel bad about the effects of what’s going on in the world which is kinda forcing me to leave a little early.

Sara - We’re bummed too but want everybody to be safe, so it’s this double edged..

Mychaelyn - (hums in agreement) I don’t want to regret not being super convservative. I mean, I can regret not coming here but I don’t want to regret it is I should have been more protective and went home.

Sara - As far as when you get back home, do you have any upcoming shows or things that you want to talk about? 

Mychaelyn - Mostly what I was doing here was preparing work for a show, I am going to have a big solo show at The Contemporary Dayton, but that's in 2021

Sara - It sounds funny because we’ve only just stuck our toe in 2020, and I had already postponed some shows to 2021, because of some other things , and now almost everything is being postponed. I think 2021 is going to be an interesting year.

Mychaelyn - It’ll be a good year for art, I think

Sara - Me too

Mychaelyn - I mostly try to scale back on applying to a lot of things this year and showing that much because I am really preparing a lot of work for this show as it’s a large space.

Sara - Last question: What’s your favorite bird? Sorry, I don’t know why but birds keep coming up and we’re sitting here interviewing and in the background you can hear them. Sounds travel so well in this town - you can hear the trains, and you can hear birds almost all the time. And yes, this is starting to become an end-of-interview thing.

Mychaelyn - It’s a tie between a cardinal, which is the state bird of Ohio, and also I like the idea that cardinals are like the spirits of loved ones that have died that come visit you,

Sara - I had never heard that until my dad passed away last year. We got so many things with cardinals on them, and frankly I was seeing cardinals and bluejays nonstop in my backyard. I didn’t know that before then.

Mychaelyn - I love that idea, but then I also super SUPER love chickens. I had a pet chicken for a while, so I also love chickens. 

Sara - What was your pet chicken’s name?

Mychaelyn - His name was Chucky McNugget (both laugh)

Sara - That’s fantastic. I love it.

Mychaelyn - He turned out to be a rooster, and he had to go because you can’t really have a chicken in the city because they are just so obnoxious and so he had to go out to live on somebody else's farm

Sara - I think that maybe is what happened to one of our neighbors awhile ago - They had a rooster... it didn’t seem to ever know it wasn’t morning…

Mychaelyn - If it sees light at all, they crow.

Sara - OH! The street light was right over their house

Mychaelyn - Most cities that pass those, they have an anti rooster law 

Sara - I think they may have amended it, the new city ordinance, I mean, we were hearing the rooster for so long, we just finally got used to it, it was so obnoxious, and then suddenly, no rooster. I am not close enough to those neighbors to be like “hey, where’d the rooster go…” 

Mychaelyn - I think I know

Sara - Yeah, I think I know.


I caught up with Mychaelyn later, after she was able to travel back to her family in Ohio, and asked her some additional questions about her process (we got to talking about birds, and I forgot to ask her about her rug "gun"), specifically about the rug tufting gun she uses to create large pieces. She uses models AK 1 and AK 2 rug tufting guns, and you can learn more about them at the link below. Mychaelyn would also like to thank Tim Eads, who helped sponsor materials for her residency and who runs the shop. She added, "I am grateful for his technical expertise and support."

Mychaelyn Michalec is an artist whose work depicts ultramodern matters of domestic life. She has exhibited at national and international venues such as Krasl Arts Center, MI, Purdue University Rueff Galleries, IN and Custom House Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Mychaelyn has been awarded residencies at Vermont Studio Center and the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts. Her work has been published in Art Maze, Friend of the Artist and Create Magazine. She currently lives and works in Dayton, OH.


Photo credits: all photos of Mychaelyn via Sara Ammon except photo with rug tufting gun - via Mychaelyn's website, photos of her work taken by/via Mychaelyn Michalec / Transcription notes: raw audio via Otter / full interview transcribed and edited by Sara Ammon