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Chris Roberts-Antieau

(1950– )

Chris Roberts-Antieau

Christine Lee Roberts was born to a beautiful fashion model mom, Rosemary "Lee," and Finch Lee Roberts, a homebuilder. Her grandpa was the grounds supervisor for the Henry Ford estates. Chris attended Michigan public schools in Brighton, Michigan. At age 10, she created all aspects of a total backyard circus–enlisting siblings and neighborhood kids to wear her hand-sewn monkey and horse costumes and directing them in proper circus animal decorum. She made a circus tight rope strung between two bar stools complete with tottering dolls and a circus ticket booth, which real customers then paid to enter. To this, she added a refreshment stand "with free drinks" and a high top tent–"but no clowns, I hate clowns." Her handmade, backyard wonder circus earned her a first feature article in the Plymouth Mail newspaper.

Chris later won 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place the first time she entered the art competition at her Brighton High School. The next year, Chris was awarded only a 2nd place prize, "Because," as the teacher explained to her parents, "We just can't continue giving all the prizes to Chris." Also a rebel, Chris' high school counselors did not recommend college–perhaps in hindsight, a great blessing. "I like being self-taught because I don't ever want to have ideas of what not to do." The one art class Chris later took at a local college led her teacher to dismiss her within the first few weeks with the diagnosis, "You'll never be an artist." Chris remembers the teacher as only wanting her to copy his work.

After seven years together with boyfriend Darrell, Chris became pregnant with her only child, a son, Noah Antieau. "I just knew I had to prepare a path for my son and me." Chris' first attempt to produce a work of art to sell was a 3-D, soft-stuffed, trapeze sculpture. It took her 18 hours to complete. She was "absolutely thrilled" when she sold it at a Michigan Fair to a woman for $20. "I couldn't believe someone would buy my work." Then, the reality of the math of her new enterprise set in.

By 1987, Chris had worked long hours to create a wearable art sample clothing line to pitch at craft fairs. The line consisted of just three vests and two jackets. Mercifully, the American Craft Council (ACC) juried her in with a debut at their giant Baltimore ACC Fair. With only those five handmade samples, Chris had the wholesale buyers lined up 50-deep at her booth, all waiting to write big orders. A star was born. "I was scared to death." Roberts-Antieau's themes are always idealistic, playful, personal hero- and humor-laden. Chris's drawers and journals are full of hand-drawn, cartoon-like hieroglyphs, which she often later infuses into her sewn works and handmade wooden frames. Today, it would be easy to argue that Chris Roberts-Antieau has become the single most successful visual artist in Michigan's history. Her work is now sold and collected all over the world. To meet the demand, Chris has employed up to twenty artisans and home cottage workers to follow meticulous instructions to reproduce her complex originals. Her ideas often come in dreams. Roberts-Antieau recently opened her own gallery in old New Orleans, delighting in selling a work to fellow musician, President Bill Clinton.

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