SOUTH HAVEN -- Southwest Michigan artist and storyteller Michele Gauthier will share stories from her French-Canadian heritage and tales from around the world at the South Haven Center for the Arts Sunday, March 19.
Gauthier is best known in this region for her detailed pen and ink drawings and her etchings of people and animals. Storytelling evolved very naturally from her drawings.
"There has always been a pretty strong element of storytelling in my etchings," Gauthier said. "I've been criticized by jurors for the writing in my drawings. I think my drawing are storytelling drawings."
Gauthier spends her summers traveling to art shows around the country.
"I found myself telling stories in my booth, and people would stop and listen. As I did more drawings, I had more stories to tell. It became obvious that I could entertain with the stories."
As a participating artist in the Michigan Touring Arts program, she travels around the state demonstrating drawing and telling stories to school children. When it is relevant, she accompanies her stories with singing and drumming.
South Haven Center for the Arts Director Michael Fiedorowicz says Gauthier's storytelling presentation is the first in a series of family oriented programs at the center.
"The events committee which plans these events is very interested in broadening our programming with activities for youth," Fiedorowicz said.
The title of Gauthier's presentation, "Coyotes, Leprechauns, Dervishes and Crocodile Tales: World Storytelling" indicates the wide range of cultures from which Gauthier draws her stories. Her repertoire includes stories from such diverse cultures as Native American, Celtic, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and American.
She will spin these tales at the center at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19. For that audience, she will be integrating drumming, singing and storytelling and sign language when its is appropriate.
Some of the stories that Gauthier will share are those she heard from her French-Canadian grandmothers while sitting around the fireplace.
" There were always Indian stories," Gauthier said. "They were all living around each other and surviving the Canadian winters."
Stories are similar to a good play; you can enjoy hearing them many times. Gauthier said.
"There is something about stories that you want to hear them again. It's almost like a performance of 'Swan Lake,' or a good piece of music. You want to experience it again."
She recently did a presentation at Fenton schools, near Flint. The children wanted to hear the same stories they had heard a year ago. Her experience in Fenton was poignant and very moving. Fenton is near Mount Morris, the school where a classmate fatally shot a 6-year-old girl earlier this month. Gauthier visited Fenton the same week as the shooting occurred. One of the songs that Gauthier sang was "Hegane," an Algonquin Indian song meaning welcome.
"It was sung to let visitors know that while they were in that village, they would be safe," Gauthier said. "Without mentioning the incident that had occurred at the Mount Morris School, she told the children the purpose of the song.
"We are singing this song so that everybody will be safe and protected while we are together," she said.
"The kids slap their knees," she said. "It is a joyous song, upbeat and happy. It is meant to make people feel safe and good and welcome. It seemed appropriate this week to make sure they felt safe."
A well-told story is always fresh because of what she calls the magic of storytelling.
"Storytelling is a kind of art form," Gauthier said, "and not a way to keep the kids from being bored."
Teachers tell her they have to be more active and entertaining to compete with television and videos, but Gauthier does not find that is the case. She can even win over the older students with stories.
"I tell them real stories of young people their age who have died or made big sacrifices. They are impressed that people their age are worth telling stories about. I've been collecting Cheyenne Indian stories. Some of them are about adventure of teen-agers -- how they are initiated into adulthood. Even at that age, I make them think about preparing for what they want to do in their life."
Gauthier moved to Grand Junction five years ago from St. Joseph.
"I like South Haven because it is a multi-cultural community." … It's a rich environment. I hope when I tell my stories, that I will honor the South Haven multi-cultural community. I'll be speaking to that diversity."
Tickets for "Coyotes, Leprechauns, Dervishes and Crocodile Tales: World Storytelling" cost $2 for children and adults. They may be purchased at the art center office, 602 Phoenix Street, South Haven, or ordered with a credit card by calling 637-1041. Tickets are also available at Wolverine Hardware in downtown South Haven and at the door. This event is being underwritten by a donation from the South Haven Winter Lights Committee.