I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Michelle-Marie Heinemann

Beautifying the Hudson Valley

“Over the years, I came to realize how many vibrant cultural institutions we have right in our backyard.”

Artist and philanthropist Michelle-Marie Heinemann moved to the Hudson Valley full-time last year with her husband, John, and their children, Hyacinth, 2, and Hudson, 7.

Michelle-Marie Heineman, a mother of two from Wappingers Falls, produces vibrant, expressionistic works of art that have been exhibited in America, Germany and Switzerland. She is involved in a number of charitable causes, most notably her commitment to fight cyber-bullying, but she says her real focus and inspiration is that of her children, Hudson, 7, and Hyacinth, 2.

While few of us have the vast financial resources enjoyed by Heinemann (her husband, Jon Heinemann, runs a hedge fund called the Heinemann Fund), we all benefit from the time and energy she spends bettering the world around her, including the Hudson Valley.

“I have had a home in the Hudson Valley for 16 years,” Heinemann said. “A year ago, we decided to move here full-time. The children have the space and the freedom to be children here.”

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Like many New York City transplants, Heinemann admits moving to the Hudson Valley and not having access to all of the cultural amenities of the city initially seemed daunting.

“But over the years, I came to realize how many vibrant cultural institutions we have right in our backyard,” she said. “The Culinary Institute of America, Vassar, Marist, wonderful restaurants, antique stores and hiking. We slowly started spending more and more time here, until moving here full-time a year ago just seemed completely natural.”

Heinemann and her family have never looked back. She says that in addition to providing her family with a wealth of aesthetic and tactile pleasures, living in the Hudson Valley has infused her philanthropic and artwork with a fresh burst of energy.

“I have opened myself up to new possibilities out here. Now, my art and philanthropy go hand in hand,” Heinemann said. “They flow into each other.”

And they flow out of the Hudson Valley.

This month, Heinemann’s sculpture, “Robin’s Egg” debuts alongside eggs created by Jeff Koons, Donna Karen and Tracey Emin, among more than 200 other leading artists in The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt held in New York City. (Fabergé sponsors the 100% charitable egg hunt). Created to raise art class funds for city children through the program “Studio in School” and to benefit endangered Asian elephants and their habitats through “Elephant Family.”

While she calls taking part in the Faberge Egg Hunt “an honor,” she says it’s through her work as the Goodwill Ambassador at Utterly Global Youth Empowerment, a charity founded to promote Internet safety among children, that she has found her true calling.

“I believe that cyber-bullying has become a scourge today,” she says. “Parents need to be so vigilant and involved in their children’s lives online. So many don’t have a handle on what their children are posting or seeing online, and children don’t understand the implications of their actions. They don’t understand that telling a classmate to ‘just kill themselves’ could actually lead to just that. It’s our responsibility as parents to monitor their activities and be involved.

In addition to promoting Utterly Global Youth Empowerment and spreading the word that “It’s cool to be nice,” working with them to create programs in schools, she is helping to organize fashion benefits that directly profit the organization. To organize an anti-bullying club in your school or find out more information, visit ugyouthempowerment.org.

The Hudson Valley itself will receive the most visible and prevalent windfall from Heinemann’s creative generosity, in the form of oversized, brightly hued “Flower Tree” sculptures that look part Dr. Seuss, part Tim Burton, 100% Hudson Valley cool. The 9.5 by 2.5 feet painted steel sculptures of gigantic flowers have been created with the unique perspective of childhood itself in mind, Heinemann explains.

“When you’re a small child, everything seems so large and everything seems so new, there is an amazing sense of wonder and possibility,” she says. “I placed one in the Ronald McDonald house already and it was so rewarding to see children run in and start shouting happily when they saw the flowers. They just stand there and stare up at the bright flowers and laugh.”

Ultimately, Heinemann says she hopes to give away “hundreds” of flower sculptures, but she currently has pledged 12 sculptures to the state of New York, and she is in discussions with the CIA, Vassar and other public institutions about where and when to deliver the works.

While her laundry list of accomplishments is indisputably impressive, Ms. Heinemann lays much of the credit at the feet of her executive assistant and the 10 members of her art team.

“Sleep is rare these days,” she admits with a laugh. “I live on sugar and caffeine. And while I do come up with the concepts, it’s not like I’m putting on a mask and grabbing a welding gun when it’s time to fabricate my sculptures. I paint my own paintings, but with my sculptures I’m more of the architect. I conceptualize and draw the model, but I don’t fabricate it. Being organized, getting up at 6 in the morning most days and delegating the right tasks to the right people is how I make it all work.”

But like many busy, over-caffeinated moms, Heinemann can’t delegate certain duties to anyone but herself.

“I was up, as usual, at 6 this morning washing and peeling carrots for my daughter’s lunch,” she says. “I may not eat carrots – carbs and coffee are my weaknesses – but my children are going to get fantastic, healthy, homemade food every day.”

And on the weekends, when Heinemann leaves her philanthropic and art work behind to spend time with her family, she says she finds a panoply of options right outside her doorstep.

“We go rollerblading, biking and running all up and down the Rail Trail, we browse through antiques in Garrison and Cold Spring, and we eat at our favorite places on the riverfront in Poughkeepsie, like the amazing Amici’s, which is wonderful for children,” she says. “They bring out dough for our children and let them create their own pizzas, which they then put in the oven. They love eating their own creations.”

Do you know a Hudson Valley parent who inspires you? We want to profile local parents who impact their community through business, politics, volunteer work, grassroots advocacy, you name it. Submit your “I am a Hudson Valley Parent” nominations here.

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