PROFILE: 20-Year Employee An Artist in Our Midst

Michelle Miles’ job at UC and the hobby she pursues every day after working “are kind of the opposite,” she admits as she turns the key in a padlock that will allow her to enter the Essex building on McMillan Avenue. She walks upstairs to a spacious art studio she rents.

Just a few blocks away back at UC, Miles is marking her 20th anniversary of employment. She will be one of dozens of UC employees honored at the 2003 Staff Service Recognition Luncheon recognizing 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45 years of service.  The luncheon is scheduled for

Thursday, May 8

, at the Kingsgate Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. 


Miles started at UC as a dispatcher in 1982, the same year that another of this year’s honorees, President Joseph A. Steger, came to UC as provost. Miles now serves as the manager of network and telecommunication services in UCit, supervising a cadre of phone operators who handle about 1,500 calls a day on a regular day and about 3,000 calls a day during busy times like September and January. She also oversees the compilation of the UC phone directory, both in print and on the Web, where it generates more than 1.7 million hits a year.

“My job is very logical and left-brained,” Miles says, as she walks inside her studio. Her hobby stands in contrast. “This is total freedom,” she laughs as she glances around the room. “It’s right-brained. You can do what you want here, and there is no boundary on it.”

At one end, the room holds an area for framing and storage. The other end is devoted to painting and fabric art, including quilting. Still life materials, such as bowls of onions, vases of flowers and a decorated pig, sit on tables all around, while two easels with small paintings in progress stand not far from a wall of windows that filled the studio with afternoon sunlight.

The purples, oranges, reds, yellows and blues of her paintings line the other walls. A set of oversized pastel paintings of snapdragons hangs near the door. One buyer recently purchased all three, titled Snaps I, II and III.

A Michelle Miles painting of ventriloquists' dummies.

A Michelle Miles painting of ventriloquists' dummies.

Along with a painting of sunflowers labeled “For Vincent,” rows of paintings depicting ventriloquists’ dolls hang on the walls near the framing area. A few years ago, Miles visited the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Ky., and became “capitivated” by the dummies. Six images from this series appear on the cover of a box of pastels called “The Full Monty,” sold by Great American Art Works.

Visitors to her studio often comment on the colors. “I paint what I think is beautiful. I love color,” grins Miles.

Candy dishes filled with pastel paint blobs aren’t edible, but add more hues to the décor. Tints even fill the front of her apron -- she dyed it with splotches of green, red, yellow and blue to cover her messes.

“I’ve always done this,” adds the artist, who started painting as a high school student and has artists on both sides of her family tree. She has studied art formally in UC’s continuing education division.

“I like to make things. It’s the healthiest thing you can do for your brain. You don’t have room to think of anything else while you’re making something,” she says. Miles’ passion for creating things also pushes her to mix her own mediums, with an aromatic blend of lavender, Canadian balsam and stand oil.

Miles at work in her studio.

Miles at work in her studio.

In addition to selling her paintings at the occasional Art Walks held in the Essex - the former Hamilton tailoring plant - Miles’ artworks have been shown and sold at Boswell’s in Northside, Starbuck’s in Northern Kentucky and the Marquette Gallery in Madeira. She holds onto one painting she won’t sell - a self portrait that hangs outside the studio door. To create it, she painted two images of herself, cut one horizontally in strips, the second vertically, and then wove them together.

A quilted piece she hand-stitched has not been named yet. It represents one of those projects that she started and couldn’t abandon. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” she says. “I kept thinking ‘This is taking so long,’ and I kept thinking ‘why?’ Then I stopped to count, and it was 792 pieces!”

Michelle Miles in her office.

Michelle Miles in her office.

Although there is little overlap between her UC job and the diversion that keeps her busy in the evenings and on weekends, Miles in her earlier years at UC did try to get creative with the phone directory cover. She learned, however, that the UC red and black are the favorites and should not be messed with.

As much as she enjoys painting, she also loves working at the university. “I love higher education. There’s a lot going on. We have student workers in our area. We love those kids. They’re not jaded yet and to see them grow up and mature along the way, I enjoy that a lot.”

She views her job as very necessary and important function. “I’m glad I get to make that contribution. It’s a service that everybody uses,” she says, adding “I think I got the best people working on the directory and as operators.”

To keep herself balanced, however, she ends each day by heading over to the Essex, “where everyone suffers from the same eccentricities I do.” It’s what she calls her “very special place,” her own little “spot on Earth.”

Check out the complete Staff Recognition Luncheon list of honorees

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