MICHELLE-BLAND-Oil-Portrait-by-artist-Elizabeth-Reed-FACeADE-Project-A portrait of diversity

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Michelle Bland


Oil on Linen
20 x 24″April 4, 2019. Painted for 3 hours with 30 minutes of interview. April 9, 2019. Painted for 3 hours while taping.
Michelle was my first “victim” from St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. She immediately volunteered to come sit for me. I consider her a friend now. She was a big part in figuring out how to do this project. Thank you, Michelle!

Michelle Bland
Friends from college call her “Mish” Her Dad and family call her “Shell”

ER: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where have you lived?
Where are your parents/grandparents from? How did they influence you today? (big question)
MB: I was born and raised in New Jersey. I’ve lived in ten different cities. New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. My parents were born in New Jersey, however, my mother’s family is from Bermuda; that’s my home away from home! When our family tree was done, on my mother’s side, we found that our heritage is Peruvian.
My parents influenced me from a young child to strive to be the best at whatever I am doing. They did not go to college, so early on, my sister and I knew we would be attending college. They wanted us to have what they didn’t have the opportunity to do/have. Ironically, my sister (Sharon) and I graduated together and it was one of the happiest days of our parents’ lives.
I currently live in Florida. I moved here because my parents retired here. My other option would’ve been to go back to NJ but I didn’t want to endure the winters. I’ve always been a “coastal” person, and living close to the beach is such a wonderful thing to me!

Artist’s note: Michelle says, “HOME IS WHERE YOU MAKE IT!.”

ER: What is your heritage?
MB: Bermudian and American

ER: What is your favorite color?
MB: Yellow

ER: What is your passion?
MB: My passions are exercising, cooking, shopping, and traveling; that is when I’m the happiest. They all help to relieve any stress I might have and helps me think things through; and being at the beach is my “stillness and Zen.”

Artists note: Michelle loves to travel. She enjoys learning of new cultures and the challenges they present. We talked about her trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Covering just the right amount of the female body to be admitted to the mosque. She loves travelling with her friends, a true blessing.

ER: Do you have a mission? A reason for doing that which is your passion?
MB: To serve others. I stopped my life to care for my sister and now provide loving care and support to my nephews. I am an active part of their life.

ER: What is/was your profession? Is this profession what you were meant to do? Why?
MB: My profession was sales. I worked at Xerox for 17.5 years and went on to work for Ortho Bio Tech (Johnson and Johnson) and Nordstrom. After caring for my sister I am ready for a new career.

Artist’s Note: She is a excellent cook and baker! Michelle makes delicious soups every week. Tried and true from the artist.

ER: What do you do that might change the world?
MB: I always try to take the high road and allow my actions to be an example to others.
I follow the daily word of nonresistance. To be spiritually connected allows one to trust with faith, set aside your human ego and allows me to assess situations from a nonreactive viewpoint.

ER: What makes you feel like you are part of a community?
MB: Where I live is my physical community. A community can exist in a church, my family and my friends. A community can also be people you do not know. This type of community exists from serving and helping people you meet by happenstance. The human community.

ER: What is the most interesting thing you have ever done?
MB: I love to travel. The most cultural experiences were Cairo, Egypt; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Emirates. Most adventurous was hiking 2.5 hours up Mont Salève, Geneva (Switzerland); hiking up 1.5 hours up into wine country in the Italian Riviera.
Adventure Bucket List: Hike down the Grand Canyon, spend the night, and hike back up in the morning. Alaskan cruise to see the whales.

ER: What is your greatest accomplishment?
MB: My greatest accomplishment is getting this far and making my parents proud. My parents want their kids to have more than they did.
My parents introduced my family to travelling at an early age. I have taken advantage of opportunities to travel outside of my comfort zone.

ER: What are your struggles?
MB: Sometimes I struggle with my vitiligo.

Here is some of our conversation about Vitiligo while painting….

It started when I was a teenager. I or 2 people in my town had vitiligo. My first spot started on my thumb. As life went on, it started to spread.
Vitiligo is a breakdown of the immune system. I am blessed. For some people it can move rapidly where they turn all white. Basically your pigment isn’t strong enough to keep its color. Because I am of color, it’s more noticeable. Vitiligo can happen to anyone but if you are of color you notice it more. My blessing was that it was not rapid. I have a lot of brown left. Some people are completely white. I have to make sure I have sunblock on as there is no pigment in the skin. I can get sunburned easily. My struggle is obviously that I am 2 colors. You want to be one or the other.
Sometimes people are so curious. They don’t think about the individual. I can deal with kids. It’s the adults who will look at you and say “were you in a fire? What happened to your skin?” It’s like, Hi, My name is Michelle, what’s yours?” (the façade)
They are just so curious that they don’t think about how the person feels. I can deal with it most of the time because I have lived with it most of my life. Some people who have lived with it just as long as me struggle more than I do. Some don’t even want to go out.
I used to wear makeup to cover it on my face. That vanity that we have. A friend told me I didn’t need to wear all that!. You are beautiful without it! YES!

Then I started thinking…I am going to try and not do the cover up. I don’t do the cover up any more. This is my biggest struggle.

I like that now you see commercials with people with vitiligo. For example, America’s top model with Tyra Banks. A young lady with vitiligo won the modelling contest in one of her seasons. The Gap also did a commercial with a young girl with vitiligo. I see more people in today’s society with it than when I was growing up. I believe that it is because more people have it.
I will always acknowledge when someone has vitiligo. I go up to them and present my hands and say “bless you.”

Artist’s note: Michelle is a genuinely beautiful person. She has the voice of an old soul. Her strength and honesty shine brightly from her face. She is surrounded by beautiful friends and a loving family.


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