How many couples do you know who, between them, work full-time jobs, serve on three community boards, operate a photography business, teach several college courses, raise six children, and still find time to create incredible cultural art? Well, now you know one: Eighth Generation is pleased to announce our newest Inspired Natives Project collaborators, husband-and-wife duo Kyle and Michele Reyes!
In addition to being a dad, husband, and artist, Kyle (Hawaiian/Japanese/Filipino) is the Special Assistant to the President for Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Education at Utah Valley University (UVU) and conducts workshops to give underrepresented youth a platform to tell their stories through artistic expression. After meeting Louie at a Mockups workshop at UVU, he was inspired to begin integrating art with his community work. Kyle uses his skills as an artist to connect with and empower young people. If the background in education and activism inspiring youth through cultural art sounds familiar, it’s easy to see how the partnership naturally developed!
Kyle describes his aesthetic as urban pattern-based Polynesian cultural art. He began his art career as a street artist in Los Angeles, and over time, as his style has evolved, he says he realized the power of art to communicate stories. “The stories that mean most to me [are] the stories of my heritages and cultures.” Reyes started applying cultural art to shoes after the Mockups workshop where he met Louie. For now, most of his custom shoe projects are for friends and family members (including his kids, of course).
Michele Reyes (Diné) says her first job is being a mom - and with such a big family, it’s more than a full-time gig. On the creative side, she’s also a photographer and designer who creates gorgeous portraits of newborns and mothers. But the way she connects with her culture is by weaving and making regalia for her family. Michele’s beautiful woven rugs combine traditional Navajo patterns with some of her own style. Michele first began learning to weave as a teenager from her grandmother. Not long after, she lost her left arm in a car accident, and thought her weaving days were behind her. Years later, Kyle surprised her with a loom that he’d asked her brother to make. “Determined to figure out a way to make it work for me, I began to weave again. That rug took me quite a while to finish, but when I did it was one of my great accomplishments.”
As much as Michele loves weaving, it’s hard work! “I love, love the art of weaving...But I will never be good enough in technique or speed to share [that skill] beyond my immediate family. I learn and weave so I can pass the knowledge down to my children and grandchildren.” That’s one reason Michele says she’s grateful for the opportunity to work with Eighth Generation developing artwork for products: because it’s “void of that all-too-familiar frustration. I can do all the designing and creating with no hindrance because of my physical limitation.” While there’s still a prevalent stereotype around Native-produced goods that associates handmade items with a higher degree of authenticity or artistic ability, Michele notes that for her, “manufacturing ensures quality and success, and it makes things possible for me personally that weren’t possible before.”
With six young children, it takes a lot of planning and discipline to maintain and nurture an art career, so Michele and Kyle keep to a schedule. After the kids go to bed, they sit in their shared studio space and each work on their own artistic projects. The nightly ritual gives them both some much-needed quiet creative time, but also provides time to bond over cultural art as they bounce ideas off each other, share feedback, and push each other to excel. Kyle says “there’s something therapeutic, but also a deep cultural connection - artistically, but also in terms of our relationship - to work on this art together.”
Eighth Generation's Inspired Natives Project is all about helping motivated community artists build capacity and thrive as successful arts entrepreneurs. Bringing the Reyes family on as an Inspired Natives Project collaborators just made sense. Michele and Kyle’s own values and service work match closely with much of Eighth Generation’s mission and community work, recognizing a sense of responsibility to both honor past generations and build opportunities for future generations. “Our artwork communicates powerful stories and it honors our ancestors,” says Kyle, “and we have an obligation to build capacity for future generations to tell their stories.”
In November, Eighth Generation is excited to host the Reyes team for two days, building capacity and working on designs for new products. We’re pleased to be working with such a talented and focused pair of artists. Look for their artwork on products in our retail store now, and online soon!