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Welder moves from heavy industry to meld singing, photography

Photography is a spiritual experience for Michael K. Anderson. And so is singing. The East Hillside resident supports local nonprofits by singing, photographing and witnessing community events throughout Duluth's neighborhoods. His musical voice ...

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Self-portrait by Michael K. Anderson

Photography is a spiritual experience for Michael K. Anderson. And so is singing.

The East Hillside resident supports local nonprofits by singing, photographing and witnessing community events throughout Duluth's neighborhoods. His musical voice and aesthetic helps elevate spirits, and his photographs express a level of understanding often missing in attempts to document community residents engaged in their passions.

Anderson grew up in Superior, the son of a mother who set aside her own singing career to give the gift of her voice to her church. His father was an electrician, and Anderson's three siblings rounded out the family.

Like many of his friends, Anderson grew up loving baseball, football and motorcycles - as well as girls and drinking, he acknowledges. He followed his dad's suggestion to become a welder and worked in heavy industry for 25 years before following his mother and finding his voice.

"It took me into my early 30s to become aware of my passion for singing," he said, as he recounted his path from welder to college - and sobriety.

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"I was still working full-time, going to school part-time," he said. "I was studying psychology, because my plan was to get into counseling to work with other people to help them find their voice. I graduated in 1992 from UW Superior. I had divorced myself from my family and could see clearly what was going on with my family and my own drinking. I think a person drinks because something is missing in life.

"Creativity, that ability to use something to express and create, fills the void, the emptiness," he continued, adding the same emptiness afflicted his late younger sister. An incredibly creative talent, he said, "She lived with a broken heart for so long ... and then she was diagnosed with cancer and it killed her."

Though he had spent a quarter-century in heavy industry, Anderson said he always wanted to get a college degree.

"When I achieved that, I asked myself, 'Now what?'

I realized that if my desire was to help other people find their voice, I had to, first, find my own voice."

To find it, he went to Albuquerque, N.M., to study with a voice teacher who taught him breathing techniques not only for singing, but well-being.

"I learned that the breath is everything," he said. "If we breathe deeply, we calm ourselves."

After getting his college degree, Anderson was tapped for roles in musical theater productions. He also began spending time in Superior Municipal Forest taking photographs.

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"For me, living in Duluth means that I take time to go out in my canoe to renew and commune with the Creator. I have faith that each day is just a brief spot and that tomorrow is another day," he said.

"I believe that my greater purpose is in sobriety as I create, sing, and shoot photographs that aren't merely pretty pictures. For me, the image is deeper spiritually than a mere documentation of what is happening in nature. I shoot the photo, and I'm filled with joy, and there is something deeper within the image that reflects my own spiritual state of being."

He holds singing in similar reverence.

"People say that when they can see it in my eyes, the transformation is there and my listeners can feel it. It's a combination of grace, great joy, peace, and that feeling of 'yes' that affirms life."

Cheryl L. Larson is a friend and has heard Anderson sing on many occasions including weddings, funerals and with the Lyric Opera of the North. She said, "Mike has the unusual ability to stay in command of himself while allowing the spirit to move through his voice.

I find his music inspiring and transcendent." She continued, "It's uncommon to find someone who is both auditorily and visually inspired."Anderson said, "My desire is to continue to trust the process and trust that the spirit will guide me in the direction that I am to go. I expect to be presented with greater opportunities to sing and express and create powerful images."

Michael K Anderson can be contacted at singingcanoe@hotmail.com and photographs can be viewed on his website www.singingcanoe.smugmug.com

Joyce Yamamoto is an artist and mentor to artists participating in CREATE, a three-year program sponsored by the Duluth Entrepreneur Fund. The program coaches artists as they turn their passions into sustainable businesses. Yamamoto lives in Little Marais.

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Canoeing on the Pokegama River in the Superior Municipal Forest. The Pokegama is part of the St. Louis River estuary. (Photo by Michael K. Anderson)

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