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Spotlight: Engineering staff member makes beautiful music and art

Lenea Howe, U-M education coordinator for the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing, has spent 11 years in the School of Public Health and at the College of Engineering.

 
Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services

Though she works to bring people into a highly mathematical and technical field, Howe spends her free time attending to two creative passions: art and music.

She is a lifetime folk artist, and her current passion is furniture painting. She paints chairs, dressers, tables and nearly anything else made of wood as long as it has a pleasing style, she says. She also is a quilter, and her painting reflects the detail of her Victorian crazy quilting.

"I love the brilliant colors and painted stitches, and that nostalgic, funky 60s look," Howe says. Some of her pieces are lyrical and some are reminiscent of a child's game board or an old piece of painted lace.

Howe, who earned a B.F.A. from U-M, also is a gospel singer. She joined the One Voice Ecumenical Gospel Choir based at the Peoples Presbyterian Church in Milan and has spent the past 12 years with them, singing for the Salvation Army, Boysville, children's camps and the Youth MD camp, to name a few. Howe, who is a soloist on the group's latest CD, also has traveled to surrounding states and last summer toured Germany and Austria for two weeks with her choir.

In 1991 Howe—along with U-M staff members, Ph.D. students from the School of Music and community leaders—began Gospelfest, a grass-roots community effort that complements other Martin Luther King Jr. events, combining about 400 voices from more than 35 churches in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas. Gospelfest occurs every February (this year, it is Feb. 8 at Brown Chapel AME in Ypslianti) in an effort to bring unity and healing to communities through gospel music.

She started singing at age 4 on the "Hometown Hour" radio program in Shiawassee County. "I guess people thought it was special that I could harmonize by ear at such an early age. I thought everyone could hear the harmony and sing it," Howe says. "Guess that's the way I see all of life ... everyone should be singing in harmony."

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