Maryanne Quinn is a Boulder-based textile artist who works in felted wool, specifically naturally dyed, hand cut, layered merino wool. Her unique pieces and process have captured the hearts of many tastemakers in Colorado and across the nation. In this interview, she shares intimate details about her background and work.
How did you become interested in this type of art?
I was introduced to felting years ago at my daughter’s Waldorf-based preschool. I watched her and her four year old classmates shape colorful and perfectly round balls from tufts of wool and soapy water, using their hands as tools. Observing the children ‘wet felting’ was delightful. That’s it – just colorful, tactile, and delightful. And still today, that is how I like my work to be described.
Tell us about your inspirations and process for creating your art.
I’m inspired by the places and things I have known and loved and worn. Like many artists, my ideas come from everywhere – even the ordinary. The large zebra-striped elephant (pictured below) has a yellow background, inspired by the pompom edged curtains in my bedroom. My abstract botanicals are the small delicate center of the flowers, or veins in the leaves, that I observe on walks or in my yard. I render vintage-looking ski hats like the ones I remember my parents buying in Aspen in the 70’s. Mountain Lids, I think they were called.
Is there anything different about the type of wool that you use?
It is pure, soft, gorgeous Merino wool that comes loosely needled so I can pull it and cut it and layer it as I wish. When I first began working with Merino, I was designing and felting brightly patterned pillows – I loved my product, but the fabric was too delicate for everyday use (and I am a terrible at sewing). When an art consultant friend commissioned some pieces for her home, I happily abandoned pillow manufacturing and my art empire (just kidding) was born. I would like to design soft goods again but I’d let somebody with more skill do the manufacturing of my patterns.
I like to experiment with different kinds of wools, sourced locally and from around the world. When I want a natural and monochromatic feel, I work with unprocessed wool that feels (and smells) like it was that minute shorn off its host. It is in stark contrast to my predilection for bright colors, but there is a time and place for both. I can safely say I love every color except maroon. Or maybe I don’t like the word “maroon”…
You’ve mentioned before that your “clean lines” help you stand apart from others who are doing similar work. Is that more about your personal style and preference, or is there a special technique that you use to achieve that?
Yes, I have a hard edge style that’s influenced by field color and color block painting. That and my background in graphic design provide necessary parameters. I have been breaking my hard edge rules in my backgrounds lately with wonderful watercolor-looking results. I keep the compositions crisp but sometimes in my art, as in life, colors bleed and lines get fuzzy. My work is very different from what’s out there today but it has an essence that people respond to immediately. I have large scale animal pieces in formal dining rooms and string bikinis in pool houses! My work enhances every kind of environment.
How would you describe this type of art to someone who has never heard of it or seen it before?
I would describe my art as organized layers of patterns and imagery (think Matisse in his later years) that are pressed into one single layer through my wet felting process. It is like hand washing wool sweaters to purposely shrink them. The consequence to my hands is severe but worth it! It’s impossible to wear gloves when I work because I need to feel the wool fibers bonding and getting stronger to know when my process is complete.
Is your studio in Boulder a private space, or do you display your work there for visitors?
My studio is quite bright and cozy and private. I am kind of shy when it comes to visitors but clients do pop in and are always welcome. With the exception of my studio assistant (now studying at RISD), daily visitors are family and friends. Maybe someday I’ll muster the courage for Open Studios…
Your work has gained quite a bit of publicity from some great magazines. It must be so flattering. How are you handling all of the recognition?
From the start I have been fortunate to count some notable tastemakers among my clients. And we all know people in the design world share what they discover and love with their community. Through clients, I was introduced to and formed partnerships with One Kings Lane and Serena and Lily some years ago, and magazines took notice. Partnering with those large online retailers (and bastions of good taste) broadened my network and provided new private clients and many more friends in the industry (the fun part).
When someone commissions a custom piece from you, what can they expect from the process, and about how long does it take to complete?
The commission process is a wonderful collaboration between client and me. Usually, commissions are large and require a month or two to complete. We begin with an exchange of ideas and then the client puts a ton of trust in me to create a piece that thoughtfully represents our joint vision. Happy to say, I have a high success rate here.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know about you or your work?
Yes!!!!!! Over the past year, my studio time has been happily monopolized by private commissions and I feel fortunate for the support and following that I have. But recently, I began to wonder how I can steadily create art I love and release it to people who will love it too. The answer is a restructuring of my studio business. Beginning in May, I will be rendering a suite of 24 large-scale pieces released two per month over the next 12 months. The new felted pieces will be preceded by their watercolor studies (also for sale). In ratcheting down the volume and elevating the output, I will have maximum creative freedom. If it sounds like a gift I am giving myself, it is.