Painter’s new muse: not your granny’s quilts

Most of Sask. artist’s work are art quilts designed for hanging on walls, but she will also make bedding and lap blankets

WOLSELEY, Sask. — Acclaimed prairie artist Marilynn Malo has painted some of Saskatchewan’s signature works of art over the last 30 years.

Her stone houses, weathered barns and farm-inspired still-life works have earned her wide acclaim, including a two-year touring show through the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils called Women’s Work and a painting in the Saskatchewan Arts Board’s permanent collection.

But after three decades of putting brush to water-colour paper, the Wolseley artist has turned to her sewing machine for inspiration. She has brought back the art of sewing, one quirky quilt at a time.

“The pressure of painting every day and going to shows and framing and mounting art was just becoming too much,” said the 77-year-old Wolseley artist.

Malo grew up loving sewing, designing doll clothes early on and sewing clothes for herself after she and her husband retired from farming. She operated Malo Gallery & Gifts in Indian Head’s Craft-Tea Elevator from 1995-2005 and then began taking on art projects that she’d always wanted to try.

She dabbled in acrylics and encaustic hot wax painting before turning her attentions to sewing her own clothes. After racks and racks of tops stacked up in her closet, Malo was inspired by her daughter to try her hand at quilting.

“I always said, ‘I’m not going to do that, it’s too fussy,’ ” said Malo with a giggle. “But I liked all of the fabric so I tried it.”

That early foray into quilting seven years ago has transformed into a passion that sees Malo produce about 60 quilts a year. Most of Marilynn’s Quirky Quilts are art quilts designed for hanging on walls, but she will occasionally make lap blankets and queen-sized bedding.

Her favourite quilts to make are non-traditional ones that allow her to insert her creativity into the design.

Malo’s quilts cover a wide variety of subjects, from animals to florals to landscapes. | Christalee Froese photo

“These are NOT your Granny’s quilts,” reads the sign to Tilli-Beans Bakery and Coffee Shop in Wolseley, where Malo displays many of her designs.

Malo’s creative process usually starts with fabric selection. She always has her eye out for unique patterns and colours, buying fabric on speculation if it sparks her imagination. She buys most of her fabrics at Tiger Lily Quilts in Wolseley, but she also brings home material from pretty much everywhere she travels. On a cruise to Hawaii, she brought home unique fabrics from each island.

Her passion for pattern has led to a basement full of fabric and plenty of inspiration for whatever she might have in mind on any given day.

“I’m very visual, so I usually start the design in my head,” said Malo.

Her main goal is to do something unique.

“I’m really drawn to abstract designs and I want to push boundaries.”

Her quilts, which can vary in size from a quilted greeting card to a queen-sized blanket, typically feature non-traditional shapes and sizes pieced together in non-uniform ways. She has created quilts with prairie scenes, historic buildings and still-life creatures embedded in them. She also uses applique to add images and interest to her works of art.

When it comes to the actual quilting or stitching together of the blanket, Malo likes to use free-motion, which allows her to stitch in a rhythm or pattern that fits the style of a particular piece.

Her quilts sell for $50 to $350, attracting an audience that is not only art-savvy but who often have an interest in traditional methods as well.

“People are drawn to the nostalgia of a quilt, but they also like the originality too,” said Malo.

For more information, visit Marilynn’s Quirky Quilts on Facebook or email h.m.malo@sasktel.net.

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