By Melanie Lee
Author, “A Year In Sedona~Meeting The Muse At Wisdom’s Edge”
(April 23, 2018)
A year after we’d made the jump into our second life in Sedona, Louis and I could say with cheerful certainty we’d become full-fledged members of a new tribe of artists, writers, nature lovers and spiritual seekers. Answering the call of the creative spirit had been invigorating and life affirming, just as we’d suspected it would. The time had come to dust off our resumes and think about volunteering still sharp skills honed during our erstwhile professional lives.
We joined the Sedona Visual Artists’ Coalition, sedonaartistscoalition.org, a merry band of artists who’d given us a warm and friendly welcome, always eager for helping hands. Louis offered his academic background to head up the scholarship program and I said I’d use my journalism and business news experience for the Open Studios Tour, the group’s signature regional event, coming up this month April 27, 28 & 29.
One of the tour’s organizers, Mike Upp, was an affable and immensely talented clay artist and former high tech marketing whiz who’d moved to Sedona from California after retirement with his artist wife Sharon. Mike had spearheaded a four-year growth curve for Open Studios, almost doubling the number of artists showing their work in studios all over the Verde Valley, including Sedona, Cornville, Cottonwood, and Camp Verde. I was impressed that Mike’s creative legacy would likely become a solid and ongoing tradition, something that would outlive his active leadership and I like the idea that the regional tour helped so many artists meet up with their muse in a potentially rewarding economic venue. Artists often struggle to bring their fragile and heartfelt creations to the marketplace and Open Studios is a wonderful chance to let the world see what’s cooking in all those creative cauldrons called artist’s studios.
Over dinner one evening, Louis and I got better acquainted with Mike and his artist/author wife Sharon and were astonished by the similarities in our stories about starting the second half of life in Sedona. When they’d arrived in Sedona, Mike and Sharon were post-career boomers eager to reconnect with their youthful artistic roots. Young and idealistic seekers of wisdom and truth over forty years ago, they’d raised a family, and after leaving careers in marketing and teaching, had seized the opportunity to reconnect with the muse by opening a commercial ceramics studio. facebook.com/earthandfiredesign
It was back in April, 2010, Mike and Sharon were vacationing in Sedona and in a happy coincidence, they stumbled upon the annual Open Studios Tour in full swing. They remembered feeling as if they’d been invited to some kind of huge block party, a fun and fabulous festival for art lovers who wanted a chance to rub shoulders with lots of top notch artists in their personal studios. It was exhilarating and reminded Mike of the wildly adventurous years when he and Sharon had been Arizona State University students who were following their bliss. They reveled in the Southwestern feel and ebullient friendliness of the people and loved the art they’d seen. So like many others over the years who came, saw and surrendered, the Upps decided to retire in Sedona to establish Earth and Fire Ceramics Design Studio, a living/working space on two acres just outside Sedona in nearby Cornville. When we visited their studio Louis and I both remarked on the unflagging dedication in Mike and Sharon’s pursuit of their dreams, evident in their new home which had taken on the shape of a life lived with conscious attention to meeting the muse.
Mike showed us the garden, which doubled as a space for his need for meditation and nurturing. Sharon led us out to where she’d constructed a winding rock labyrinth for walking meditations, the focus of her art and spirituality workshops. She and Mike didn’t talk much about it, but it was obvious that as their new studio had taken off, producing large batches of what they called Art For Living ceramic dinnerware, both of them had blossomed spiritually and artistically.
It was easy to see why the new studio had flourished. Friendly Mike was the outgoing entrepreneur with lots of funny stories to share with visitors delighted to hear all about the latest glazing technique or new pot in progress. Soothing Sharon offered a calm and welcoming presence that let everyone feel comfortable and completely at home. The two accessible hosts were always ready to discuss their unique processes and their regionally-influenced line of ceramics, ‘art with beauty and purpose’ as they called it. It was especially rewarding, they said, to demonstrate the possibilities inherent in sculptural and functional creations designed for everyday use in the timeless culinary tasks of mixing, baking, serving, even microwaving.
Eager patrons liked learning about the amazing ideas the two artists had, literally, cooked up, ideas that would take shape in time as interesting and practical ceramic dinnerware. Customers usually counted themselves lucky to have stumbled upon this delightful slice of originality in the high desert…who even knew such a welcoming and creative place like this existed? It was a point of great pride for Mike and Sharon that their personal creative legacy would be that the best pots and dishes they could create would endure and provide enjoyment and beauty for their owners in the years to come. Mostly though, their own creative fulfillment came from knowing that people would be using and enjoying their work every single day to make their life more beautiful and functional.
I asked whether they felt they’d come full circle from their artistic roots as they’d traveled the path to reconnect with their muse. Sharon’s response wasn’t surprising. “Let’s walk the labyrinth,” she responded, suggesting that like most matters best addressed through creative contemplation, this question would find its answer within the sacred space of a labyrinth walk, that timeless and universal path to meeting the muse at wisdom’s edge.
Melanie Lee is an award-winning writer, editor, artist and author. Growing up in Texas, she read mostly biography and autobiography and dreamed of being a writer who could help inspire others to meet their muse by honoring beauty in everyday life. She holds degrees in languages and journalism and was a features editor and columnist, writing everything from lifestyle stories and business news to profiles of entrepreneurs, artists and inventors engaged in the creative pursuit of right livelihood. She lived for ten years in Northern New Mexico where she was creator and director of Sojourns Writing Workshops of Santa Fe.
At the second half of life she moved to Sedona with her husband Louis Michalski. She met her muse anew, took up painting, became a yoga teacher and avid hiker and wrote “A Year in Sedona~Meeting the Muse at Wisdom’s Edge“, available on Amazon.com or from the author. She can be contacted at
P.O. Box 1419 Sedona, AZ 86339 or firstname.lastname@example.org