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Portraits of Michigan

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around KC.

Lisa Koskela

I started painting cats for family and friends and the portraits became an instant hit with anyone who saw them! Coming from a product development background, I decided to create prints and gift items, so that more people could celebrate their favorite felines. “That looks like my cat!” is something I hear often.  This year I started hosting paint-and-sip experiences so people could have fun creating their own cat-tastic masterpieces. I’ve found the subject matter and studio setting to be great for private parties, friends, and people looking to relax and try something new. Read more>>

Dawn Wilbert

Photography has always been a hobby of mine which organically developed into a business over time after friends and family encouraged me to photograph professionally. I still work full-time as a research laboratory manager, and during the weekends, I’m typically scheduled for Portrait sessions or events. Although it feels like I’m constantly on-the-go, because I’m doing something I’m passionate about, photography doesn’t feel like work. I enjoy my patrons and the results I get from shooting and interacting with them. Read more>>

Erica Simpson

My journey to becoming a doula began with the birth of my own two babies. I experienced firsthand the power of a doula’s emotional and physical support not just for myself but also for my husband. I had several friends asking me to support them in their births so I leaned into that and explored what it would look like for me to receive formal training and pursue this path further. I became a certified birth and postpartum doula and have had the privilege of supporting many families since then. Read more>>

Ilona Erskine

I was someone who navigated through life by checking boxes and dreaming of my next vacation to escape reality to get a taste of freedom.  You know the list Graduate from high school Go to college Get a house Get married Land your dream job (or what you think is your dream job) Fill in the blank Trust me, I did what society told me to do, yet I STILL felt drained & disconnected and feeling like what is wrong with me? Throughout my nursing practice, I kept hearing the voices of my oncology patients saying “I thought I was healthy and this happened” OR “my plan was to wait until retirement and start traveling and start living my life, now I have ______ stage cancer and now my life is on hold again.” It broke my heart to hear that this was a lot more common than I thought. Read more>>

Crystal Moody

Real estate has always been something I’m passionate about. I come from an Entrepreneurial family, my grandfather, dad, uncles, and aunts all own or have owned businesses. So, it was only destined for me to own a business one day. It was in 2007 I attended my first real estate workshop about finding and flipping properties the workshop was hosted by Annette Powell (she was called the Queen of Real Estate). After attending that workshop, I acquired my first property in 2008 during the housing recession. I lost track of my goal of becoming a real estate agent because at the time I had a fulfilling career in health care. Read more>>

India Williams

I always knew I wanted to start my own business just wasn’t sure. But I noticed a lot of friends and people on social media looking for a 360booth rental so I looked into it and saw it was a demand so I decided to create pictureme360llc. I pretty much run the business by myself and my two children. This made me so happy because my parents owned multiple businesses and I loved helping them it taught me a lot and gave me the grind attitude. I want my kids to have the same attitude so we work hard together. We are continuing to grow and we actually did a few corporate events who was a goal of ours. We continue to set goals and I proud to say we have reached our goals so far. Read more>>

Jacquelyn Raudabaugh

When I was in college, I was working a fulfillment job and picked up a second job at a coffee shop as well. I absolutely fell in love with the coffee shop vibe and had a real passion for customer service, learning about coffee and the industry, and predominantly I loved training new employees. After 4 years, I accepted a job with a larger coffee company. I immediately realized this was a path that I enjoyed and voiced my desire to move forward. So, within that year, I worked from a Team Member to Supervisor and then was given my first store as a manager. I thrived in running a store…I loved marketing and coming up with promotions, I loved serving the community I was working in, I loved connecting to my employees and my customers each day. Read more>>

Kiran Patel

I was born and brought up in India and lived in Mumbai India for most of my life. Since my childhood, I loved painting and drawing. I never took any professional training for drawing or painting. when I was in 10th grade started teaching drawing and painting to young kids in my neighborhood. One day my neighbor asked me to apply henna on her hand for some occasion and it turned out to be very good. After that day I started doing henna designs for my family and friends during different occasions. I got married at very young age and became mother within 1 year of my marriage. Read more>>

Ny’Ea Reynolds

Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you how much time I spent letting my imagination run free in my room, in the backyard, in the car, and at school. Since a child, I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for the arts. At twelve years old I decided to write, produce, direct and act in my first play with all of my closest friends. That’s when I knew what I was put on this Earth to do…or one of the many things I was meant to do, at least. I tapped into acting and received professional training from Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit in high school. Read more>>

Erik Stevenson

I’ve been tattooing since the early nineties, starting in Albuquerque where I was in college working toward a fine art degree at the university of New Mexico. Tattooing took me all over the country, including Atlanta, Seattle, and most recently, Petoskey and Ferndale. I had my own tattoo shop, Lakeview Tattoo, in downtown Petoskey since 2005 until I was forced to close in 2020 because of the covid pandemic. Since closing, my wife and I have moved to Ferndale and now I’m part of the Dharma Tattoo Collective working alongside some great inspirational artists. Read more>>

John Cowden

I am originally from Nashville Tennessee. I was born into a family of artists. I have been drawing and painting from a very early age. I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and was a fine art major at the University of Tennessee. My wife and I got married in Holland Michigan and fell in love with the area. As Nashville continued to grow uncontrollably and the area began to change, we began to think of moving to Michigan. I absolutely love Holland and the state of Michigan. It feels like home. Although I work in medical field, I will always consider myself a painter first. Read more>>

Adrean Mangiardi

For as long as I can remember, I loved capturing glimpses of the world from behind a camera. As the only deaf family member of a hearing family, filming empowered me at a young age to communicate my perception of the visual world around me in a way that was not impeded upon by any language barriers. My family understood this was a valuable communication tool for me and they helped to nurture my creative outlet through their never-ending willingness to be subjects in filming home videos. This was my origin story. Read more>>

Janay Brower

I started Public Thread for many reasons but the top ones are: 1) put into physical form what it looks like to care about people and the planet in the process of making sewn products 2) incorporate creativity x justice into a business model I needed to see in the world 3) create a worker-owned cut & sew model that was community/place-based. Starting, sustaining, and scaling this work has been some of the hardest work of my career. We have always been thankful to be connected to talented people that want to be part of the solution, so that  has always been “easy” but pretty much everything about building a sustainable, triple-bottom-line business that cares about people and the planet, has been very challenging. Read more>>

Jacqueline Bishop

I started photography in 2017. I have always loved to travel my home State of Michigan and felt inspired by the Great Lakes Region and the beautiful natural landscapes we have at our feet to explore. My goal with photography and content creation has always been to share the beauty of Michigan’s natural landscapes and the importance and education of our Great Lakes. So many people that live here are completely unaware of the abundance of places we have to explore here in Michigan and the Midwest. Read more>>

Amber Michalik

Originally formed in 1983 under the name of its founder, the Ann Parsley Dance Company changed its name in 1990 to the Macomb Ballet Company and was designated as a non-profit corporation in 1991. The Mission of the Macomb Ballet Company (MBC) is to provide performing experience for talented young dancers through the creation of a quality, community-based, youth-oriented, classical ballet company while reaching, educating, and enriching the audiences of the local community through formal productions and special school performances. Read more>>

Anthony Strickland II

My journey started when I decided to start using my 9-5 to find my purpose. I worked at multiple group homes for young boys in Detroit who were caught in the system by no fault of their own. That turned into me becoming a life skills teacher at the Juvenile detention facility in Downtown Detroit. Interacting with this demographic on a daily basis is what inspired me to find ways to influence and encourage the youth before they have to be put into these placement facilities. Read more>>

Lisa VanWyckhouse

My name is Lisa, founder of Lisa’s Bath Bar. Since the early ’80s my family has been passionate about living a healthy lifestyle. As a married mother of 3 boys, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate natural ways of living into our everyday lives. For years I bought and used natural, handmade soaps from small businesses just like Lisa’s Bath Bar! I would attend farmer’s markets, arts, and craft shows, and other events just to stock up on soaps. Until one day, I decided to make my own. After cutting my first fresh loaf of soap, I was hooked. That was the day Lisa’s Bath Bar was created. Read more>>

Bryan Glidden

I’ve loved martial arts since I was a kid. I wrestled and loved boxing and other combat sports. After high school, I spent almost 6 years serving as an infantryman in the US Army, with a 15-month tour in Iraq, and 12 months in Afghanistan. The army was a great place to develop coaching skills. After service, I began training in Caique Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Dragon-Leg Muay Thai out of Warrior Way in Walled Lake Michigan. The team there was amazing, and really helped me develop as a grappler, boxer, and person. After a few years with them, I helped open up Final Round Training center in Ann Arbor Michigan. Read more>>

Roxanne Rhoads

I am an author, book publicist, mixed media crafter, and lover of all things spooky. I’m also a wife, mother of three children and four furbabies, and grandma to one little cutie who was born in June 2022. My books include Haunted Flint, Ghosts and Legends of Genesee & Lapeer Counties, and Pumpkins and Party Themes: 50 DIY Designs to Bring Your Halloween Extravaganza to Life. Read more>>

Alexa Doebler

Alexa Doebler (aka Blue Woods Design) is a self-taught mixed media artist living in Holland, Michigan with her husband & 2 kids. She loves art journaling, creating faces & trying new things in her artwork. She believes art should be an expression of self & that that includes a wide range of emotions, thoughts & experiences. From serious to silly, art can enhance our experience of this life & should be valued for the process of reflection & expression! Alexa is the Founder of MixedMedia Art School, a hub of art courses, inspiration & community. She not only creates art; she also teaches in her studio (The Art Garage) & hosts art retreats throughout the country (Paintbrushes & Palette Knives Art Retreats). Read more>>

Sofia Rodriguez

I moved from Puerto Rico to Grand Rapids, Michigan in Fall of 2021 with my husband, Jose, and our daughter, Selena. Having lived my entire life in the Caribbean, it was very difficult to get used to the cold and snow. For that reason, I spent most of my time indoors, and it was getting a bit difficult to cope. Around January of 2022 I found out what “tufting” was, and I immediately fell in love with it. I knew that this would be the perfect creative outlet for me, and for the first time in a while, I felt very motivated to create something. I bought all of the materials and embarked the journey of trial and error. Read more>>

Selenia Rodriguez

My name is Selenia and I’m a Holy Fire II Karuna Reiki Master, Crystal Jewelry Artist, and Aromatherapy Connoisseur. I’m the owner of Healing Luna and LunadeSelene. My journey started from pure curiosity. I’ve always been into the more magical things in life. I was always playing around with crystals, energy healings, and really anything that was mystical and magical. As I got older, I began reading and watching anything I could to learn more about metaphysics, natural healings, and alternatives to medicine. Crystals were my first love and I started making wire-wrapped crystal necklaces when I was 18. As I’ve gotten older, my jewelry has evolved in style and in purpose. Read more>>

Simple Man Good Food

I was raised by a single mother in Detroit, she worked very hard to provide for me. I went to elementary school/middle school at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit. Throughout my time there I was a trouble maker to say the least. I was a kid full of anger and would constantly make trouble, be a class clown, and do everything I could to not be productive. I would estimate I was suspended between 30-40 times between 5th and 8th grade. Even with all my troubles my principle who started the school Carmen N’namdi did not give up on me and I was able to graduate and go on to high school. Read more>>

Evaline Selaty

As a teen, I spent most of my mornings waking up early before school and playing in makeup with my mom. She was an artist at heart too and most of our relationship grew around beauty/fashion. I can’t imagine a time where I didn’t have my own business and would even pretend to set up shop in my room waiting to accept clients at 10 years old. I followed that path by entering beauty school and ended up learning hair, funny enough. I graduated more well-rounded and ready to jump in. I was offered a job at a Nordstrom Beauty counter as a Business Manager where I was able to hone into my craft and practice on all skin tones/types and personalities. Read more>>

Salvatore Manzella

I am Salvatore Manzella, and this is my story. I grew up boxing, starting when I was 11 years old. I fell in love with sport and eventually got into BJJ, wrestling, and Muay Thai. I was extremely passionate and did not want to do anything else but fight. In 2015, I stopped mixed martial arts and got back into just boxing. June 12, 2015, I suffered from a brain bleed on both sides of my brain and a blood clot in my spine. It was a sudden and shocking injury. I went through about a year of cognitive and physical therapy. I am beyond blessed to be alive and to have fully recovered. In between then and now I have also had surgery on both shoulders. Both were bad and I have metal in my right shoulder holding everything into place, and two pieces in my left holding everything into place. Read more>>

Jane Beiles

My story began in Michigan. I was born in Detroit and raised in Grosse Pointe Woods a short walk to the shores of Lake St. Clair with a view across the water to Windsor, Canada. After Catholic high school at Our Lady Star of the Sea, I enrolled in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Although I considered a college choice in Boston, U of M was in my blood (my older brother was enrolled and my paternal grandfather was a graduate of the dental school and even helped construct Michigan Stadium “the Big House” while a student in 1927). Read more>>


My name is Aroldo, and I have been in the food industry since a young teenager. My love and passion gave me confidence to branch off on my own. I brought California-inspired burritos to Muskegon, MI with a twist. There were absolutely some struggles, before Lo’s Burritos I was not into the social media life. I took a risk quitting my daytime job, I really put myself out there with the videos I post, about the food I make. Read more>>

Zakiyyah BG

I was born June 28th in Lansing, MI. An energetic, charismatic, and witty kid. My passion for the performing arts grew only after being forced on stage to perform in an elementary school play by my mother. From there I continued studying acting and filmmaking. In high school, I became a thespian performing musicals, dance and studied at our local performing arts school: Ruhala. I’ve starred in local short films that have received awards including: Best Acting, along with her own film “Badnapping” which I directed, starred, and wrote; now has gone on to win 8 awards around the US. Read more>>

Brooklyn Anderson

We started off doing hair bows on the living room floor when I was only 5 months… once I turned 8 months I was walking and anytime I could I would drag my mom purses with me and play dress up… my mom seen something in me and decided to order me my own purses and we took off from there… anytime my mom seen me interested in something she made sure that I had it… that’s why we chose Brooklyn’s fun Accessories because I always have fun with whatever I do… as the months went on, we started doing clothes, scarves ChapStick perfume you name it lol… Read more>>

Lynn and Amber Gorby

We are sisters-in-law (married to brothers), we were both working in other fields (Lynn in fashion, Amber in retail management) and we had always talked about the possibility of working together and owning our own boutique someday. With the Covid pandemic, we both were home with our children and wanting to connect with other women and get back in the workforce, and decided it was the right time to start our boutique. Lynn is excellent at connecting with women and being in front of the camera. she has a fun and outgoing personality and is the “face” of our brand. Read more>>

Michael Pfleghaar

In 1983 I moved to Grand Rapids, MI from Petoskey, MI to attend Kendall College of Art and Design, and received my BFA in Fine Arts in painting from Grand Valley State University in 1989. I received my MFA in visual arts from Lesley University College of Art and Design, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2011. Modern and contemporary design, architecture, interiors, and houseplants inspire my colorist autobiographical, representational, and abstract mixed-media artwork. Read more>>

Mike Norris

Long long ago in my early years, I am pretty avid artist. My sister and I would spend a lot of time drawing anything and everything. As time went on and later into my teenage years I started writing/blogging about consumer technology. Over the course of the next ~4-5 years and a couple of sites I owned as well as writing for others, I started to find that I had a secondary interest in photography. The photography came into play with consumer tech writing by way of hardware reviews. I enjoyed the process of photographing things in ways that was a bit different than your typical tech blogger would do.  Read more>>

Amy deLaroque

I have always loved taking photos and videos to capture fun and memorable moments. Even as a kid I remember using our old VHS camcorder to film random skits with my friends! After high school I was very into music and attending concerts, taking photos and videos of the shows I attended. This led to my friend Jess and I creating the website “Put Me in the Picture”, where we shared all of our concert photos/videos, interviewed musicians/celebrities, road-tripped all over the US selling merchandise at concerts, etc. I began learning how to do basic video editing stuff and would put together videos of our road trips. Now with my love for travel I have shifted into making content around that part of my life.  Read more>>

Bryan Braun

Personally, I came to Richmond Community Theatre because a friend of mine who was associated with them asked if I was still looking to direct a play. I was. So, he gave me the number of the then artistic director, and I went in and interviewed with him, and got the privilege of directing “The Spitfire Grill”. That was back in 2009. I was instantly hooked in by the charm of this little theatre. The state is so weird and oblong, there is no wing space, there are permanent walls where walls should not be on a stage, it was one of the most difficult obstacles about the place was how to stage a show in such a weird place.  Read more>>

Ashley Kay

Sooooooo going back to around 1991-92, I remember vividly watching a commercial on CBS (at that time it was Channel 2 in Detroit) for the movie Stompin at The Savoy and I remember seeing Vanessa Williams on the screen and I was immediately drawn to her. I said something along the lines: “I wanna be like her someday. “Now granted that I was always in some sort of extra-curricular activity throughout grade school, I was still hesitant to dive into the arts because I always felt like the outcast when it came to everything I did. Read more>>

Nicole Rumbold

I have a Bachelor’s degree in marketing/public relations and a minor in healthcare. I have 5 years of real estate experience which has helped me learn how to develop an eye for what sells and what doesn’t. So, mix the two together and that is how I came up with The E Co. The E Co. just made sense. I am always thinking of different ways to create passive income & this is something that stuck. So, I knew I had to pursue it. The hardest part was finding a landlord who would allow me to rent out my space to other people. I did not want to buy a commercial building because I wanted the first year to be a test run. My landlord thought it would be a good business and supported the idea of renting it out to other people. Read more>>

Tyrone Hunter

My craft had begun for me when I decided to quit my job in 1999 to focus on the fashion industry to become a world-known fashion designer. I always had an eye for fashion but I wanted the world to see something that I created by hand and not something I purchased. I am a self-taught black male who busted my tail to become the man I am today. Sewing is a strong passion of mine because I’m so creative and I love expressing myself with fabric. Believing in myself is my inspiration. Knowing that God put me here with a purpose is my reasons of living. Read more>>

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