by Matthew Hogan
As of this writing, Stan Hywet’s gardens are open free of charge Wednesday-Sunday from 8:30-10 am for seniors and 10 am-3 pm for all guests. The Winds of Change exhibit is located in the gardens. Hours and admission are subject to change throughout the summer season.
A new art installation, part of the Winds of Change exhibit opening in the gardens at Stan Hywet in June, symbolizes peace, hope and love. These origami installations take the shape of a crane, butterfly and dove, respectively, each connecting with core beliefs of the Seiberling family.
But there’s more than meets the eye when visitors come to see Michelle Wilson’s origami designs. She has been experimenting with the medium for 25 years.
“I want the audience to enjoy the whimsy of the art installations. I want them to be fascinated that what they are viewing is actually origami — created by folding a flat surface into a design,” Michelle says. “I would like the audience to reflect on the deeper meanings of peace, hope and love.”
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Michelle is the executive director of Global Ties Akron, a local nonprofit seeking to strengthen ties between Akron and the rest of the world in hopes of building mutual understanding and eliminating negative cultural stereotypes.
The Winds of Change exhibit features three of Michelle’s installations: “Carousel of Peace,” “Wings of Hope,” and “Love-Doves in Flight.”
“The exhibit is a culmination of a lifetime of work in the area of peaceful change, global education, social enterprise, international exchange and citizen diplomacy, all through Global Ties Akron,” Michelle says. “With every origami peace crane, butterfly, dove I fold, I am praying for peace in the world, thinking about how we can better teach our youth about empathy and how to be good civically engaged and globally engaged citizens.”
Michelle’s careers, both artistic and nonprofit, reflect her passion for human connection and breaking down barriers.
“I have had a creative streak since I was a child.” Michelle said. “Just in the past couple years, I have begun to consider myself an ‘artist.’ I just love to experiment and create.”
An Ohio native, Michelle studied at Kent State and decided to stay in the area after graduation.
“Upon graduation from Kent State University with a degree in international relations, I learned about this small NGO that was working with the U.S. Department of State and building local-to-global diplomatic ties, working to bring the world into our classrooms and homes, and welcoming the world into our meeting rooms. Needless to say, I was hooked, and have been for 30 years.”
Her career with Global Ties Akron has given Michelle the chance to work with diplomatic leaders from across the globe. She has met Jamaican judges who are writing legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQ people; Iraqi ministers of education who are creating new education policies; Moroccan basketball star Mohamed Amine Zariat, who is working to improve the lives of his country’s youth; and a Zimbabwean women’s rights activist who puts her life on the line to improve the lives of farm laborers, girls and women.
“What do they all have in common? They have an amazing energy and commitment that you just want to capture. They are the world’s changemakers, making an active difference in the world now. As they visit the U.S and our community, they are gleaning ideas, sharing ideas, and going home to make a bigger difference in the lives of those they touch, both in their own communities and the world.”
A champion for community-wide inclusion, Michelle’s passion for art comes from her desire to bring people from different races, cultures and creeds together. She was on the founding team of the Global Village Festival and the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives Network and is a member of the Akron Area Interfaith Council.
Among all of her community involvement projects, Michelle believes that her most impactful work in Akron comes from helping youth.
“The most important part of this is working with our city’s youth. If we can begin at a young age to teach empathy, compassion and skills to build social and emotional inclusion, then we will have a community that welcomes all,” she says.
Michelle’s work, both internationally and locally, allows her to express her creativity and passion for peaceful change. She first began folding origami when an exchange student from Japan taught her 5-year-old son how to fold. Since then, she has mastered folding in miniature with fine handcrafted papers, making art, jewelry and Calder-inspired kinetic mobiles.
“Whether it is folding origami extremely small and accurately and then creating it into wearable art, or now, folding it large and out of materials that can move with the wind and stay outdoors, I am always looking for new materials and ideas,” Michelle says.
Matthew Hogan is a PR professional, community activist and local theatre actor.
Photos: Used with permission from Michelle Wilson.