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Mackenzie Matlen

Wearing bright-colored clothes, Mackenzie Matlen of Birmingham moves with purpose and passion around the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio. There, she is enrolled in a studio art program for adults with special needs. She is excited to show off her work, particularly the pieces representing her two muses, the Statute of Liberty and sharks.

"I like the Statute of Liberty because she symbolizes freedom and our rights," says Matlen, although everyone at the West Bloomfield-based studio affectionately calls her Macko.

One of Matlen's pieces, titled Statue of Liberty 2, a mixed-media rendition of Lady Liberty, appears on display in the prestigious Michigan Fine Arts Competition Exhibit at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. The almost four-foot sculpture is one of 88 pieces chosen for the juried show. It was selected from more than 700 submissions.

Annie VanGelderen, president and CEO of the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, called Matlen's sculpture unique and interesting. "If you look at the exhibit, the work is varied and diverse and truly notable work," said VanGelderen. "I say kudos to anyone whose work goes into the show."

Mia Serafini, program coordinator at the Soul Studio, says Matlen is "unafraid to go big and bold. She's very experimental, and she's done many iterations of the Statute of Liberty, creatively using different materials for each one."

With her mixed-media work, Matlen uses "found objects," often coming up with an idea but waiting for a certain material to appear to fit her vision, according to Jessica Bukrey, one of the facilitating artists at the Soul Studio. It could be Saran Wrap to construct a torch or a Tropicana orange juice lid for a nose. She created Statute of Liberty 2 out of beads, shells, wood, cloth, paper, and bubble wrap.

Matlen says her work is partially influenced by her mom, Terry Matlen, a fine artist and psychotherapist, who aside from painting, does mosaic sculpture work. Both mother and daughter have pieces in the fine arts show. According to VanGelderen, it's the first time members from the same family appear in the exhibit.

Matlen is ecstatic about showing her work alongside her daughter's, particularly since doctors once told her that her child would never talk and may never walk after suffering a brain injury as a toddler.

"When I think back to those days and see how far she's come, it's phenomenal. Today she's in a professional setting with professional artists, showing her work," said Matlen, about her daughter, now 34. According to Matlen, her daughter has some difficulty with expressive language, which means conveying a complete idea or story can be difficult.

"Art is a way for her to express her feelings in her own way without having to use words. Going to the Soul Center is a way for Mackenzie to feel good about herself in general. She has something that's hers, and that's her art," said her mom.

Since joining the Soul Studio in 2016, shortly after it opened, Matlen has completed numerous pieces, 18 of which have sold.

When deciding which one to enter into the show, she said she picked Statute of Liberty 2 because she accidentally put the torch in her statute's left hand and because she's a lefty.

The 40th Annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition Exhibit runs through August 19 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., with access limited to groups of four at a time. Entries can also be seen online at

Story: Jennifer Lovy

Photo: Laurie Tennent


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