Michele Wood, artist and author

Indianapolis native Michele Wood paints a picture of the past with every stroke of her brush. Her illustrations, paintings and other works of art depict scenes of African-American history -- such as slaves singing while working in the fields. Her latest children's book, "I See the Rhythm of Gospel" (a follow-up to "I See the Rhythm," also written by Toyomi Igus), is receiving positive reviews, and one of her paintings is featured in a traveling exhibit called "Southern Journeys: African American Artists of the South."

Although Wood created art as a teenager, she didn't always know she wanted to do it for a living. After high school, she moved to Paris to become a model. A year later, she came back to the United States to attend college in Atlanta. She studied graphic design, but ultimately decided to do fine art. "I didn't really have an idea of what I wanted to do until after I grew up a little and finished school," Wood said.

She lived in the South for 16 years; then, in 2003, she returned to Indianapolis and took a break from art to dedicate herself to God. Wood spent many hours volunteering at a church. "I became a pastor's assistant, I was an usher, I was a Sunday school teacher, I cleaned the church," Wood said. "It was my time to give, and that's what I did."

Now 46, she is rebuilding her painting business, preparing to move back to Atlanta, hoping to adopt a child and, with Igus, planning another "I See the Rhythm" installment and a live production of the first book.
Q: Are you illustrating any other upcoming books?
A: I have a new book that will be out in November or December called "I Lay My Stitches Down." The writer is Cynthia Grady. She created these wonderful poems that are just fabulous and full of detail.
Q: In your first book, "Going Back Home: An Artist Returns to the South" (written by Igus and published in 1996), you traced your ancestor's roots -- they were sharecroppers and cotton-pickers in the South. You won an American Book Award for it. What does that award mean to you?
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A: It still hasn't hit me yet. I'm always striving to become better. I've been very blessed to win several awards, but I don't look at that.
Q: Is religion still a big part of your life?
A: Very much. Without God, there's no talent -- there's no me.
Q: You've illustrated several children's books. Why is it important to you to expose children to art?
A: What I do is not just art; it's African-American history. It's teaching them about our culture. Despite our situation, we still had our pride and self-respect, and I want to tell our tale with dignity and pride. Not only is it our history, but it's America's history. I think it's important to tell the kids our story. I'm very proud to be able to do that; that's what I'm interested in. It's more than just painting.
Q: Why do you think it's important for children to learn about their heritage and to learn about slavery?
A: You gotta know where you came from in order to know where you're going. My mother always told me you have to know your history; that's what makes you an individual. (Slaves) endured so much hatred and hardship but . . . they visualized coming out of poverty and coming out of slavery. They learned and continued to grow. They were visionaries of that time period. They had a lot of faith and hope; without faith and hope, you have nothing.
Q: Did your parents encourage you to paint and draw as a child?
A: My mother has always encouraged me. She's my biggest cheerleader. (She) encouraged me to become who I am, never to compromise and to do what makes you happy.
Q: How often do you paint?
A: Six to eight hours a day. I'm very disciplined, and I'm very determined. I have a deadline, so I have to meet it.
Q: What do you do when you're not painting or writing?

A: I cook. I've been cooking cobblers (for friends and family). Whenever possible, I try to spend time with my nieces and nephews. I have a wonderful network of extended family, like my stepmother, who is dear to me.

Q: You're moving back to Atlanta, right?

A: As of March. I love Atlanta. Indiana will always be my first home, but Georgia is my second home. I am grateful for the experience here in Indianapolis and will always call it home.

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the future, both for your career and your personal life?

A: The biggest thing is to have a child in my life. And I want to go back to Europe -- I want to become a more international artist. I also want to get into animation. I want my images and my story to become a cartoon.

To learn more about Michele Wood and her work, visit michelewood.com and iseetherhythm.com.