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(August 16, 1942 - July 27, 2014)
Michael Elkan was born August 16, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA to Julius 'Jules' and Frances Elkan.
Michael had his first business experience working in the family store. From 1949 to 1961, he worked after school, weekends and vacations selling, displaying, and buying children's clothing.
At age 18, Michael was out on his own, working in the highly competitive fashion industry; first selling apparel (wholesale) on the road, then working in manufacturing. He started in the warehouse, but soon, his talents were recognized, and he moved to the design department. Before long, he was commuting to New York, traveling from Paris to Hong Kong, designing apparel; skinny-ribs, V necks, super tight, multicolored sweaters for Forum Sportswear and Faded Glory. Michael's designs were a huge success and were featured in GQ, Esquire, NY Times and Men's Wear Daily. He loved the energy and creative stimulation of the threads industry, but the concrete jungle and constant pressure could not be maintained forever.
In 1973, Michael quit his job and sold his home in Bucks County, PA. Then, he and his wife, Sharon, caravanned across the country, eventually landing in Oregon where he fell in love with the forests and a vintage house on forested acreage near Silver Falls. For the next several years, Michael chose to do manual labor, planting trees, pruning berries and other farm and forest work. He became intrigued with maple burls and started experimenting with creating unique burl boxes.
Mostly self-taught, Michael built a very successful American craft business making boxes, one-of-a-kind sculptures and furniture. For 25 years his work was shown in the most prestigious, juried, national craft shows and exhibited in galleries from The Real Mother Goose in Oregon to Appalachian Spring in Washington D C. His work was featured in the American Craft Museum, the Smithsonian Craft Show and in numerous collections, including that of well-known textile designer, Jack Lenor Larson.
When the Warm Springs Museum was built in Oregon, Michael was commissioned to create some pieces, including the Chief's Chair.
In 1995, Michael wrote a book, Reading the Wood, a tribute to the wonderful material, people, and processes involved in his creative woodworking business.
In 2002, again at the top of his game, Michael decided to retire. He moved to Mexico where he built a house on the beach that resembled one of his box sculptures. He practiced yoga, played basketball with the local kids, designed concrete furniture for his patio and enjoyed his relationships with the local people.
Michael and Sharon continued to closely follow art and fashion. They loved the art scene in Mexico City where they traveled annually to soak in the creative energy. A recent vacation to Colombia was spent visiting 3 different cities and many galleries, museums and art shows. They spent summers in Oregon visiting with friends and family while enjoying their cabin in the forest.
When Michael learned that he had terminal cancer, he requested a celebration of life party that he could attend instead of a funeral after his death. The party drew nearly a hundred people from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico who came to share stories of their friendship and history with Michael. A simultaneous celebration was happening near Michael's home in Mexico and it was skyped to the party in Portland.
Michael died July 27th, at home, surrounded by family and his furniture and sculpture. Michael was an easy going, gentle man with a creative and generous spirit.
Michael is survived by his wife and partner of 46 years, Sharon Elkan, his brother and business partner, Charles Elkan, his sister Rochelle Elkan, nieces, nephews, and great-nieces.
If you wish to make a donation in Michael's honor, we request it to be made to the New Avenues for Youth for their Youth Artist Mentorship Program in Portland, OR. Web address: www.newavenues.org
Michael believed in mentors and your contributions will help lead some young person to that creative path that nourished and sustained Michael throughout his life.
Michael's first grade teacher once wrote, "Michael seems to daydream a great deal." She didn't know that he would grow up to be the man that would make those dreams come true.
Learn more about Michael and his work at michaelelkan.com
and so it goes. . .
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