Apr 1, 2018 – Artist Features

Five Things You Should Know About Maggie Thompson

by Russ White, for MPLSART.COM

Maggie Thompson wears a lot of hats: artist, weaver, curator, gallery manager, and small business owner, to name a few. She makes a lot of hats, too, for her knitwear business Makwa Studio, which she operates out of her studio in the Northrup King Building. With a BFA in Textiles from RISD, Thompson also uses her knitting and weaving skills in her fine art practice, creating deeply personal installations about her family, her Ojibwe and German-Irish heritage, and, more broadly, her place in the world. Her work has been shown at All My Relations, Mia, the Plains Art Museum, and the Minnesota Textile Center. Here are five things you should know about Maggie Thompson.

Her mother is a painter and has had a studio at the Northrup King Building for years

Margaret Carroll, Thompson’s mother, has maintained her painting studio in NKB since her daughter was in 4th grade. “I used to skateboard and rollerblade around in the hallways,” laughs Thompson. Carroll paints dynamic landscapes, inspired by northern Minnesota, as well as portraits of her friends and family in the tradition of Alice Neel — quirky, loose, and full of heart. Thompson remembers participating in her very first art sale at the age of ten, selling little watercolors for a few bucks each. Now both mother and daughter work just down the hall from each other in the building that Thompson says “is pretty much like a second home to me.”

Travel is just as important to her studio practice as actually being in the studio working

“I get depressed if I don’t travel,” she says. When asked where she likes to go, Thompson immediately replies, “Anywhere.” She’s not just interested in drinking Mai Tais on the beach, though; a lot of her travel has impacted her work as well. She has been involved in two residencies so far, with more on the horizon. She spent a month each at the Fogstand Gallery in Taiwan and the Vermont Studio Center, working on beadwork and Native apparel at the former and starting a body of work about her father’s illness and passing at the latter. Next up, she and her mother are planning a trip together to Ireland to research more about their family history. Thompson is sure they’ll make time for some “textile-related stuff,” too.

She keeps active both through her work and with an exercise routine

You might think of knitting and weaving as sedentary practices, usually done while sitting in a comfy chair. But Thompson says her work is actually very physical: “I can work up a sweat on my knitting machine.” Even still, sometimes you just have to get out of the studio. Thompson’s exercise routine naturally varies by season (she was actually in between work-outs at the gym when we spoke on the phone), and in the summer she tries to go on long bike rides at least twice a week. She also regularly walks or jogs around Lake of the Isles and goes to a pole fitness class a few days a week. The pole fitness, she says, is “fun, playful, and challenging. It really stretches you out… I grew up without TV, so I was used to running outdoors, building forts, doing classic kid stuff. I just have to move.”

“I love looking at structure, counting, and solving equations; I like the challenge of it. And I like it because yarn can be delicate, but you’re using it to make something durable.”

She is a talented curator as well

Being an artist and entrepreneur are full-time jobs in themselves, but Thompson’s actual day job is as Gallery Director for Two Rivers Gallery in the Minneapolis American Indian Center. Thompson has helped breathe new life into the gallery since it reopened after an eight year hiatus in 2015, with funding from the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative. Focused on exhibiting emerging Native artists, Two Rivers also hosts educational programming, passing down traditions like beading and quillworking to younger generations. Her work curating shows at the gallery has helped her make ties with other artists across the country and has led to other curatorial opportunities with the McKnight Foundation and The Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, where she co-curated last year’s widely acclaimed We The People exhibition. The experience was challenging but rewarding, she says. “It pushed me in a new way.”

As an artist, she collects inspiration wherever she can find it

Thompson says she has an ongoing collection of photographs, stories, and quotations in her studio to keep her inspired. At its core, her work is very narrative, both inspired by events in her life and a means for her to process them. Her 2014 solo show at All My Relations Gallery — titled Where I Fit — took a contemporary look at Native American stereotypes through tapestries and jingle dresses. Her 2016 show at the Textile Center, On Borrowed Time, tackled the artist’s grief over the loss of her father through a variety of mixed media installations. She wove together photographs of herself, constructed a bedspread out of a tessellated photo of a sunset, and created a custom quilted and beaded bodybag, among other pieces. The work provided some catharsis for the artist and her audience alike.

Thompson says the images and quotations she collects are culled from different sources: photos she’s taken herself, pages from magazines, “a song lyric that kind of tugs on me.” Right now she is hung up on a lyric from musician Ben Howard, “Gracious goes the ghost of you/And I will never forget the plans and the/Silhouettes you drew.” She is still working with the theme of grief, mourning both a past relationship and the passing of a good friend, but her artistic direction is not always so clear. “If I don’t have a story to work through but I still need to create — that’s where the knitwear and weaving come in.”

For her, textile art is both practical and poetic. “I love looking at structure, counting, and solving equations; I like the challenge of it. And I like it because yarn can be delicate, but you’re using it to make something durable.” Thompson talks about textiles the way a writer might talk about storytelling. “You just take a single string, and you can make it into this pictorial fabric.”

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