Art in Sheep’s Clothing: Works in Felted Wool
Boulder artist Maryanne Quinn's bold wool pieces
There’s an orange life preserver hanging over Maryanne Quinn’s mantel, and somehow it makes perfect sense. Quinn, a Boulder artist who creates brilliantly colored collages from naturally dyed felted wools, is all about color and form. She takes a simple, instantly recognizable shape—a ski patrol cross, a wool cap, a swimsuit—and transforms it into a sophisticated meditation on form and color. “What drew me to working with wool was really the contrast and the color,” she says. “I consider myself a colorist first. I love the hard-edged paintings of the color-field artists—Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman. They are my inspirations.”
Portrait by Jen Going
Her three kids, though, get the credit for leading her to wool. Quinn was an English major at the University of Richmond, with “an unofficial minor in art.” She studied drawing and painting and then worked in graphic design. Her love affair with wool didn’t begin until her kids started school. “They went to a Waldorf preschool, and when the students are very small, they are always doing handwork,” she says. “They made felt creations with wool and soapy water. My children were playing with soap and wool and felting, and it was so lovely, and I was drawn in.”
Winter White Trees
Quinn started small, making boldly patterned pillows. “They were little pieces of art made with a very fine Merino wool from Norway and New Zealand and Australia,” she says. “The wool was exquisite, but it was too fine to be used as a cushion, and they didn’t last, so I began to explore other ways to use wool.” She was making bold, graphic fabric when Kim Gould of Kimberly Gould Art Advisory saw them. “She said, ‘I want to hang these on my walls.’ So we did,” says Quinn.
Hippo and Red Bird
The collages range in size from small—her first pieces were 40 inches square—to striking 60-by-60-inch works. Completing a piece can take weeks, and the felting process sounds like the artistic equivalent of CrossFit. “I work on my basement studio floor,” she says. “So I can get everything wet and messy without ruining my floors. I make a soft cushioned layer of bubble wrap, and then I layer cut pieces of wool, get it wet, and rub.”
The water and friction help the wool fibers interlock. “When I need a color combination, I can layer the pieces of wool to create the color I need by making overlying layers so thin you can see through them. When a piece is really large, I have to use my whole body to stretch and roll it out. It’s like doing laundry in a river,” explains Quinn.
Golden Antlers on Turquoise
“When I was working on a computer, I could change my mind and just start over, delete the piece I didn’t like,” she adds. “Felting is like that because you can stick something down and then peel it back up if it’s not just right. I painted with watercolors for years—and I still do, just to practice, study and think—but with watercolors, if you make a stroke and want to get rid of it, well, you can’t.”
Hydrangeas and Oars
Quinn finds inspiration everywhere, in the mountains around her Boulder home and at the Westhampton seashore where she and her family summer every year. “Because of where we live, I’m always out for a walk in the morning and taking pictures,” she says. “I love doing botanicals, the crazy art and abstraction of flowers viewed way, way, way up close. And we ski, and the kids sail and surf.”
Love the Moment
Even Quinn’s simplest pieces have a narrative weight that comes from her affection for the world around her. There’s a sense of a story behind every image. “The bikini reminds me of my bathing suit when I was 7,” she says. “The ski hats are based on the ones we wore as kids, the old wool kind that made your forehead itch—to such an extreme that my dad saw one and asked, ‘Where did you get that hat? Did you take your Aspen hat and just stick it on?’ Every piece has a story to me, but the wonderful thing is it can mean something entirely different to someone else.”
Grey Blocked Antlers
Pieces run from $800 for smaller, preframed designs to $12,000 for larger works. In Colorado, Quinn's work is available in Boulder at Alpine Modern, in Telluride at Tweed, in Avon at Worth Home, in Steamboat Springs at Stel House & Home, and in Denver at Griffin Design Source. She also accepts commissions.