Michelle Green’s awakening as an artist

Story and Photo By Christina Heintzelman

Michelle Green’s story about her first artistic experience is the best and goriest that you may ever hear. “When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I was running in the kitchen with a glass in my hand. I fell and cut myself badly enough that there was blood – lots of it. I didn’t cry; instead, I decided I could use it as paint, and I began decorating the refrigerator with my bright red artwork.”

Of course, mom came to the rescue to patch her up but immediately realized that her daughter had quite a talent – not to mention a ton of courage! And it did not take long until other people were noticing Green’s talent. In both second and third grade she was awarded scholarships for art classes given through Art Association of Harrisburg.

“My sister, Kelli, and I always made our own paper dolls complete with all their outfits. This may have been my first introduction to the idea of fashion design,” she says. But she also credits her high school art teacher, Charles Acri, with expanding her idea of the entire gamut of visual art. “He was a phenomenal teacher; I had the opportunity to work in so many different mediums and because of him I went on to win Gold Key Awards.”

As a native of Harrisburg, she stayed close to home until after high school when she spread her wings to study fashion illustration at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. “Unfortunately for me I was studying for this field at the same time that designers were beginning to realize that they could do their own fashion illustration, and the field began to dry up.”

This did not deter Green as she and her friend, Shannan Rivers, decided they could develop a line of clothing – which they did.  It was branded as Shannan Jene and sold at the JC Penney store in Philadelphia in the early ‘90’s. At the same time, Green was also exhibiting her paintings and working for the October Gallery in Philadelphia, a gallery which has been showcasing African American art and artists for 36 years. But even with these successes, she was feeling adrift and says, “During this time period I was creating art that was what the public wanted to buy and not what was my passion – not what was in my heart.”

Green returned to Harrisburg in 1992 and settled back in, still looking for her passion. Fast forward to 2002 – her young daughter, Sierra, who at the time was 5 years old, had an artistic streak and created bookmarkers. Green would often take her daughter over to Broad Street Market on a Saturday and set up a little outdoor area where her daughter would sell her bookmarkers, and she would set up her easel and paint. At this same time, Green’s dad was in a nursing home and one of the things she delighted in was taking her paintings to him as he loved her work, and it brightened his and her day. “When dad died in 2014, I completely shut down and could no longer paint.”

Green’s passion for her art came back when she was in her 50’s when Covid was making headway and the murder of George Floyd was making headlines. “Something was triggered in me, and I had flashbacks to a time in my childhood when I was the only black child in my class from sixth to eighth grade, and I endured many racist comments and actions.” This trigger for Green’s newest work causes her to say, “Nothing I painted before this awakening matters anymore, I have found my voice and my passion.”

Green’s style is totally her own and in many instances she relates the black experience through the eyes of a woman.  Her paintings compel you to see into the piece and feel the soul of the work. Some of her works speak of the bondage and disconnection women often face while others celebrate a liberation of spirit. This tension creates works of a deep personal nature. 

Although much of this article has focused on Green’s painting talents, she is also a photographer, film producer, and a writer of movie scripts. Green is responsible for the Harrisburg Be Happy video, which can be found on YouTube. This video was produced in 2014 and features Pharrell Williams hit song, Happy, playing as a background to an amazing 4+ minute video of Harrisburg residents expressing their zest, enthusiasm, and love for our city. Green also produced a video for our new mayor, Wanda Williams. In addition, her continuing video series dealing with domestic violence and child abuse victims entitled Dark Light Stories of Abuse can be watched via this link: https://fb.watch/anclvrzLso/.

Along with Bethany Nicholle, Green was a co-winner of Harrisburg Magazine’s Simply the Best Artist in 2021 and has this to say about her award: “I was thrilled to receive this vote of confidence and assurance from the voting public. My confidence and faith in my artistic abilities skyrocketed and gave me added impetus to move forward with my art.”

At about the same time, Green began thinking about opening an art gallery in the city. “I spoke with my business partner, Dr. Dale Dangleben, and I was tasked with finding a location that would have good visibility and the right vibes.” This task was accomplished when Green found the property located at 1224 N Third Street, which is now the home of Nyeusi Gallery. Nyeusi is the Swahili word for black.

Dangleben, in addition to being the Director of Trauma Services for Penn State Health, Holy Spirit Medical Center, is an accomplished author, poet, and photographer. He has a love and knowledge of Caribbean and African art which, coupled with Green’s knowledge of the local art community, makes for the perfect combination of African, Caribbean, and African American art. 

Because of the variety and the quality of arts, this is a gallery worthy of a big city. And, because of the foresight of Green and Dangleben, it exists right here in our city. Oils, acrylics, installation pieces, mixed media, prints, photography, sculpture, jewelry, books can all be found in this vastly eclectic gallery. 

But Green and Dangleben did not stop there. They have created Nyeusi Media, which is equipped for doing podcasts and live videos for artists; Nyeusi Print Shop, which offers print services not only to artists but to the public for any type of printing needs; and 913 Productions, which offers video services combining graphics, animation, music, and photography. In addition, Nyeusi Gallery is the place to go for paint parties. A stellar event was a paint and sip party hosted by Lifetime TV’s Ms. Juicy, star of “Little Women Atlanta.” And let us not forget chess classes for kids, taught by Green who has been playing chess since the age of four.  More events are in the planning stages.

Check out the Nyeusi Gallery website for all the special programs in February for Black History Month: poetry slams, mimosas and nude life drawing classes, a speed date paint and sip party, Nyeusi quiz show, and an artist series featuring Michelle Green and Michele Hairston. February is also American Heart Month and Nyeusi Gallery is working on some special activities in conjunction with this event.

Green is totally committed to giving voice and presence to artists of color in our area with names such as Brian King Prolific Hickman, Michele Hairston, Bethany Nicholle, Larry Lenzz Washington, Donnie Lyons, Kwatei, Paul Hood, Stephanie Lewis, and more.

Michelle Green and Nyeusi gallery can both be reached via Facebook NyeusiGallery. Also, special services offered by Green and Nyeusi can be found on websites www.913productions.com and www.nyeusiprint.com.