Creators: Michele Oka Doner


Sunbrella celebrates people who dedicate themselves to the creative process. Makers. Craftspeople. Artisans. Creators. No matter their passion, all are driven to bring their vision from mind’s eye to reality. The Creator Series tells their stories.

Nature as Muse

Nature has a constant pull on us. As much as we glory in the hubbub of cities, people can’t break the bond born of our ancient ancestral experience living in the wild with a deep connection to the elements, flora and fauna.

Nature is in us.

Designers feel this as they explore the world for ideas and inspiration. Nature offers patterns, color combinations, textures and scale that connects to our deepest sense of ourselves.

As a daughter of Miami Beach, artist Michele Oka Doner feels nature’€™s pulse as her own, and she has spent a lifetime drawing on this connection as inspiration for her art. Best known for her large-scale installation, “A Walk on the Beach“€ at Miami International Airport, Oka Doner embedded more than 9,000 bronze sculptures of marine flora and fauna in the terrazzo floor of the main terminal. For travelers trapped in manmade spaces, it offers a respite by submerging them in an underwater world inspired by the ocean mere miles from the airport.

“I never thought that nature was outside the door,”€ Oka Doner said. “I’€™ve always felt nature was in me and I was part of it. There was no separation.”

Commissioned to create a large-scale art installation for Architectural Digest Art at 1 Hotel as part of Art Basel Miami Beach 2015, Oka Doner drew on her roots as a child growing up in Miami Beach in the 1950s.

Her creation for the event, Mangrove Retreat, transports us to another world – the world under the elegantly splayed roots of mangrove trees. The installation uses Sunbrella fabric onto which mangrove roots have been painted to create a circular tent structure held aloft by thick bamboo poles.

“€œI wanted to evoke a timeless retreat of going under the tree, of going into the tents; something ancestral, but modern,” she said of Mangrove Retreat. “They’€™re the most beautiful and lively trees.”

Inside Mangrove Retreat, the fabric diffuses sunlight, silhouetting the mangrove roots painted on the exterior. For a moment, our perspective shifts and we’€™re transported to the water’€™s surface, our world framed by the graceful arcs of the roots.

“People need individuality, they need self-expression,”€ Oka Doner said. “€œAnd they need to connect on their own to the land and the sky. Humans are not separate from nature; nature is not something we go out into. It’€™s what we live and breathe and eat. It’€™s with us every minute.”