After serving in the US Navy and studying under Janet Turner at Chico State and with MC Escher in Europe, Michael Halldorson (Art, ’69; Credential, ’71) dedicated much of his professional career to the family business, Halldorson Appliances. Yet he still managed to share his passions and artistic talents with numerous community service organizations, donated his etching and other artworks to support nonprofits’ fundraising, and worked with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Chico State Student Veterans Organization. As this year’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award recipient, he spoke with us to reflect on his success, career, and Chico Experience.

How has Chico State influenced your life?

In fall 1963, I changed to art as a major, and Janet Turner exposed me to printmaking. Chico State has given me art. And Chico State has given me the faculty—I had incredible instructors and professors, and most of them became friends, from Janet Turner to Marion Epting. I used to take Janet out to lunch, and she would say, “You have to come back to Chico State, you have to.” Lo and behold, two years after she passed away, I was back. From 1990 to 2007, I was Marion Epting’s assistant. I still enjoy teaching today.

What did you learn from Janet Turner that influenced your life today?

She was super intelligent. There wasn’t a subject she didn’t know about. Also, the way she really helped her students was she collected fine art prints at her cost and she would put them on a bulletin board so we could learn from them. She would come back after the weekend and there would be an empty spot (because someone had taken one). That was the genesis for her collection. She wanted to support the community through artwork. That was Janet’s dream. She collected hundreds of thousands of prints because she didn’t want her students to have to pay to travel to New York or Paris to see the latest in printmaking. As a student, I couldn’t always appreciate everything that was on those walls, because I knew what I liked, but you were exposed to different things. And Janet made it possible.

What is one of your proudest legacies?

A fellow that collects MC Escher prints found me on the internet and bought 23 of my prints and became a friend. The last time he came out, I introduced him to the [Janet Turner Print Museum]. And as he was leaving Chico, he said, “Do you think the Turner would like an Escher print?” and I said, “Of course.” Two months go by and I’m shutting down my computer one night and there is an email from [Curator] Catherine [Sullivan] thanking him for the Belvedere, which is a lithograph of a castle, appraised at $45,000. I called him up the next morning and said, “Steve, the Belvedere?” He said, “I thought the Turner should have an iconic image of Escher’s.” I said, “You just made my life.” Two days go by, and I’m copied with an email thanking him for Waterfall. I called and he said, “Belvedere would have been lonely without another lithograph.” Now I’m on cloud nine. Three more days go by, and I’m copied with an email thanking him for Day and Night. I called and he said, “Yeah, those two lithographs would have been lonely without a woodcut between them.” In the space of five days, he had given close to $150,000 in Escher prints. I’d like to think that would make Janet very happy.   

What advice would you give your graduating self?

Follow your dream. Not the money, but your dream. And never give up. I wanted to be a printmaking professor, but I gave up. Now, I finally get I get the best of a lot of worlds. As a volunteer teacher, I get to go in every Wednesday morning and help students and I don’t have to grade their work.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

The energy, the vitality, the creativity and just getting to know them. But also all the little tricks I’ve learned that in the 50 years or whatever it is that I’ve been doing this, I like to share those with them. And I give each student who wants it five sheets of paper, because back when I was a student, every scrap counted because it’s like $4 or $5 a sheet. It’s very rewarding. And I have a lot of printmaking supplies. If a student needs gold or silver ink because it’s not supplied by the college I have it. There is a satisfaction on watching students grow. Everyone starts off wanting to do skeletons and super surreal stuff, but they mature and they learn little techniques and I’ve seen some really fine printmakers come out of Chico State.