Textile artist Maryanne Quinn puts a fresh and modern spin on folk art in her felted wool wall hangings. Her work incorporates images of animals and botanicals in vibrantly colored compositions that pack a strong punch. Though her pieces have a childlike appeal, Maryanne cleverly extends her art form with bold graphics and witty and ironic references that make them unexpectedly sophisticated. With her keen and disciplined eye as a former graphic designer, Maryanne turns traditional craft into contemporary art in a commanding and refreshing new way.
Racing Giraffe #5 by Maryanne Quinn, 48″ x 54″
How did you originally start doing your felted wool pieces, and do you have any formal training in textiles or art?
I studied literature and art in college, and my professional background is in graphic design. My creative curiosity is lifelong and pretty informal. When I first saw simple wet felting in action at a Waldorf-based preschool, something inside me clicked. Soon I was buying piles of wool in all variations and began experimenting at home. As for training, being a graphic designer for years augmented my art background with the reality of job/project parameters. I still make rules for myself while designing a piece, but because I am my own boss, I break them whenever I want!
Blue Dog by Maryanne Quinn
Yellow Crab #1 by Maryanne Quinn
You talk about your inspiration coming from a longtime interest in fashion, folk art and ‘nature’s abundance.’ What are some of your early memories of this interest, and when did you first start experimenting creatively?
As a child, my family spent summers at the beach, and shell collecting was almost a daily activity. My earliest creations, outside the art room at school, were sea shell and driftwood sculptures from what I had collected on the beach. I also painted with watercolors the flowers that my mother grew around our house. As I matured, I painted botanicals, and that interest never faded. Now I love exploding the shape of a flower so large that it becomes abstract.
Years ago my mother designed and made hooked wool rugs — wool all over the house all the time! — featuring classic folk images of landscapes and animals. Her folk art style was very influential. The work I do today is the culmination of a lifetime of observing the everyday images of my world and interpreting it in my own, very often oblique, way.
Cecily’s Dog by Maryanne Quinn, 36″ x 36″
Purple Hippo in the Grass by Maryanne Quinn, 48″ x 52″
I understand you originally did felted wool pillows but switched gears a couple of years ago to do large-scale wall hangings. What inspired this change?
The pillow designs were the first step into textiles for me, and they sold very well at the beautiful West End Gardener in Boulder, Colorado. I was in full swing making these pillows when an art advisor and friend commissioned four wall hangings for her new home based on what I was designing. When we laid out the four 48″ x 48″ wall hangings, we knew instantly that my business had taken a dramatic turn. My art needed to be on walls even more than sofas!
Olive pillows by Maryanne Quinn
Tomato Vines pillow by Maryanne Quinn
Central Park Birds by Maryanne Quinn, 72″ x 64″
I can see your work being a wonderful addition to a child’s room, but after seeing it in person in the living room of a quite modern home, it’s clear your appeal is much broader than that. Are you designing for any particular audience or setting in mind?
My imagery is clear and bold and very graphic. Some people react to the characters rendered in the pieces and others to the color combinations. What I always want is for the work to have soul. When I finish a piece and am overwhelmed either with laughter or melancholy, I know I have succeeded.
My design style leans to modern, but I always incorporate an image with meaning or history to me personally. For example, one of my daughters has a stuffed dog that has been her companion for years. He appears in several of my pieces. A quartet of dogs called Bowl of Love illustrates particularly well how expressive a beloved stuffed animal can be in an imaginary forest. These are each 24″ x 24″ and hang as a grouping in San Francisco.
Bowl of Love by Maryanne Quinn, 24″ x 24″ each
Zebra Butterfly by Maryanne Quinn, 36″ x 36″
Nine Portholes by Maryanne Quinn, 15″ x 15″ each
You’ve injected some whimsy and humor into your work — for example, your Polka Pig piece showing the safe cooking temperature for pork of 160 degrees. How do you come up with these ideas, and do you know in advance exactly what you’re going to do? Or do you add in the quirkiness as you go?
Like all of my work, the pig was completed in my mind before I ever put it together. But while felting I suddenly stopped, laughed to myself, and looked up the temperature needed to safely cook pork. Little amusements like that are rarely planned. Sometimes they don’t make the final cut, but I like to give quirkiness a fair chance.
Polka Pig by Maryanne Quinn, 24″ x 36″
Chickens/Eggs by Maryanne Quinn
Your use of vibrant color and great color relationships is a big part of the appeal of your work. Where are you sourcing your wool from, and are you doing any dying of the wool to get just what you want?
The wool I use is naturally dyed, high quality merino. Someday I may dye it myself, but I’ve never not been able to achieve what I want with the fantastic materials I have worked hard to source.
Acid Yellow Mimosa by Maryanne Quinn, 60″ x 60″
Yellow Mimosa on Fuschia by Maryanne Quinn
You also incorporate sequins into some of your pieces. Do you just kind of feel what each piece needs as you go?
That falls into the whimsy category, I believe. Those sequins were purchased for my daughter on the condition that she had to share with me. I had a private commission cut out with silhouettes of regal looking birds on a very bright patterned background. The sequins and beads gave a subtle sparkle to an an already colorful piece, and the client was extremely happy with the result.
Are you doing custom pieces as well?
Because my work is sold through art advisors and interior designers, I have completed many private commissions. Very often a client sees a theme or design they love but needs a simple color shift. Just as often, I am asked to incorporate something significant from their own lives into the wall hanging. I love this situation because, as a graphic designer, working with visual specifications is what you do. The custom piece or private commission is a very big and important part of my business.
Recently clients (and great friends) commissioned a large piece for the dining room in their contemporary home, Crab #6 (a 60″ x 60″ piece) scaling the Montauk Lighthouse. It reigns as one of my favorites. The porthole windows of the lighthouse where I’d been recently gave a pop graphic element that meant something to me, while the number 6 is the number my friend wore playing sports as a teenager. Personal significance to the client and to me. Wonderful project.
Crab #6 by Maryanne Quinn, 60″ x 60″
Where and how are you selling your work, and did you get early feedback and encouragement that you could turn this into a business?
I have several channels of sales now. My website is where I post my new work whether it’s sold or not. Most of my large pieces are sold through interior designers and art advisors. I also have work in a few very fabulous home decor shops, Bev Cardo in Quogue, New York, and Poppy in Boulder, Colorado. Encouragement has been there from the start, and the maintaining of these relationships is helping my business grow.
Chocolate Lion by Maryanne Quinn, 48″ x 44″
You go back and forth between your home in Boulder and summers on Long Island where you grew up. Are you inspired differently between these two locales?
I am inspired by overcast days at the beach and in Colorado. When the sky is grey, you see better all the varying colors in the landscape (sea or mountain) and pay closer attention to the small delights surrounding you. A dazzling sun in a bright blue sky trumps all the little bits of life, and you find yourself looking up more. These are the extroverted days when I take it all in as a whole instead of studying the details that comprise my work. Love them both, but my mind churns in the mist, whether in the foothills or at the ocean.
Botanical Blue Stripes #4 by Maryanne Quinn
What are some of your favorite things, whether they impact your work directly or just make you happy?
My children’s laughter. An ocean swim. Stretching a beach day into the evening. Nights at home with my husband and children. Buying fabulous boots!
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