Featured Pember artist is man of many talents

1-31 004By Jaime Thomas

What happens when you throw together a dentist, a photographer, a gun-maker and a competitive skater? You get Dr. Fred Michel.

The Poultney resident, whose work will be on display at the Pember Library and Museum for February’s First Friday, is a man of many interests.

“I’m curious — I want to see what’s next,” Michel said.

It’s an attitude he seems to have carried throughout his life. Though he originally went to Syracuse University for biology and zoology, Michel was coerced by a good friend into taking a dental aptitude test at graduation.

He performed quite well on the exam, so he went to dental school after teaching junior high school for a year. The field has yet to get old for him.

“I knew within a week that I was made for it; I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I still love it,” Michel said. But working on teeth is only one of Michel’s many passions.

As a youth, Michel was exposed to photography through an old-fashioned box camera his mother used. He took a course in college and was hooked. After the first camera he had purchased with hard-earned money broke, he used his first paycheck from teaching to buy a new one.

When his wife died a decade ago, Michel decided to pursue his photography a little more through various workshops. Despite the technology that now exists for taking photos, he’s one of the rare folks who still sticks with film.

“I love film because it’s either Christmas or Halloween — you either really love what you get or it’s not so great,” he said.

Making antique-style guns is another traditional skill Michel has pursued since his twenties. When he first started the hobby, he said he had to hunt to find various parts for the guns and really work at them to make everything fit together. First Friday will be the first time he’ll exhibit the old, hand-built pieces, which take the better part of a year to make.

“Each one gets more and more intricate. I learn a lot,” he said.

It’s not just in the past that he’s followed new pursuits. About seven years ago, he decided to revisit ice skating after he hadn’t been on skates for 40 years. Through meeting his “wonderful” coach, Dave Manfredi, he joined the Green Mountain Speedskating Club.

“I don’t care about racing, but I love the form and the speed,” Michel said.

Despite his many accomplishments, Michel’s humble, good nature comes through in conversation. Unlike most people, who discuss such ideas but never actually pursue them, he simply tries out whatever he is interested in, and oftentimes excels at it.

In his free time, of which he somehow has plenty, Michel bikes, watches movies, fly fishes, spends time with his girlfriend and reads. He said he feels most passionate about whatever he happens to be doing at the time.

“I like what I do. I’m enjoying my life,” he said, adding that he considers his three kids and soon-to-be four grandchildren a big achievement.

“They’re all gainfully employed and have good lives, and that’s my greatest accomplishment,” Michel said.

As far as retirement or slowing down, it’s definitely not happening any time in the near future.

“Why would I?” he asked, “I might even be taking up a new hobby soon.”

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