Q+A with Meg Callahan, Contemporary Quilter + Craftswoman

We’re so thrilled to feature Oklahoma artist Meg Callahan, a woman with incredible talent and one of the leading faces in contemporary quilting. She also successfully leads her own studio, M.C Studio – this means she has both incredible talent and an impressive entrepreneurial approach to art-making. Her recent listing as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 is just further proof of her talent, appeal, and the power of hard work. 

What we love most about her art is her attention to the details and desire to capture the inspiration of the natural world in fabric and quilting. She has a unique perspective on the relationship between art and craft, which is perfect to explore for this month-long feature on so-called “women’s work.” Let’s jump right in.

The Basics

  • Age: 27
  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Education: RISD, BFA in Furniture Design
  • Field of Interest: Textiles
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? My hair, and my family
  • What Inspired You Today? Today today? Good question. Today I was inspired to get up because I planned on getting some good coffee which I was excited about, and I was inspired to get to work because I have some big deadlines. The inspiration of everyday seems much more mundane than ‘what inspires you’ in general, however inspiration to get the small/operational tasks done are just as important.
  • What Are You Currently Reading and/or Listening To? Listening to The Arcs, and all podcasts on Gimlet Media, and reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • Are You Working on Any Projects That You’re Really Excited About? Yes! I am working on a piece for a show of contemporary female quilters that will be shown in May. The group of women are extremely talented, and we all know of each other, but have never met. I look forward to seeing all of our work together (to see a show of a traditional craft but in a contemporary setting) and to meet the women who I am inspired by.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 12.34.52

Questions + Answers

Your most well-known works are quilts, however you also work on different projects, including furniture. Both of these practices seem particularly handmade, relying heavily on construction and craftsmanship. Why do you think you seem to gravitate towards work that has this physical, built quality?

I grew up in a creative and hands-on household, and there were always things around that fostered making: paper, pencils, mud, fabric, ingredients, etc. And there were no rules to limit what we couldn’t touch.

My parents both worked, and their supportive nature but unintentional hands-off parenting style lent itself well to my sister’s and my creativity.

I went on to school, and was trained in the traditional techniques of woodworking, and I realized the power of craftsmanship in the execution of ideas.

Screenshot 2016-03-10 08.52.00

And I enjoy having a tangible, usable object at the end of a project. It is similar to cooking—the final result is eating!

Quilting, among other textile arts, has often been seen as women’s work, relegated more to craft than so-called fine art. As an artist, do you think that’s still the case, and if so, does it influence your work? And speaking of women in quilting, could you tell us a little more about this quilting show featuring contemporary female artists?

I do think quilting is currently seen as ‘craft’, and primarily as women’s work. But it is craft, and mostly women do it, so I can see why.

Quilting has its roots in folk art and craft, and that is a rich and wonderful history. I think it differs from fine art, because quilting was community-driven and patterns were collectively worked on and shared–quilts are generally categorized by community rather than an individual artist: Gees Bend, Amish, etc. And although that has evolved over time, quilting will always have its history.

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I would say I associate myself with craftsperson more so than artist, but I also do not identify with the quilting world, and am inspired more by artists.

I am very excited about the quilt show. It is a group of twelve contemporary quilters–Lindsay Stead is the driving force, and began the conversation. Within the last few years, there has been a wave of young, contemporary quilters all starting small design studios. It is exciting for me to connect with these women–all of us with different backgrounds and from different places, and celebrate the craft that we all have in common in one place.

💨◾️🏃🏼 @sethcapshaw

A post shared by Meg Callahan (@mdotcallahan) on

How do your Oklahoma roots influence your work, either in aesthetic or practice?

Oklahoma is flat. The buildings are square. The sky is huge and is constantly changing its mood. It can be epic and angry, and then bless you with a cotton candy pink sunset. The grass is usually straw-colored. The dirt is a deep red orange (my favorite color). My work is directly inspired by the landscape of Oklahoma–trying to emulate the subtlety of the horizon line, while invoking the power of the sky.

In the past, you’ve explained that your work is inspired by Native, traditional, and contemporary quilting practices. Could you explain some of this history, and how it influences the meaning of your work?

Craft has held an interest with me because it is the distillation of practices over time. It has worked out all of the options and provided the tested and true way something should be done; the right way to do something in order to produce the highest quality result.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 12.34.19

Quilts are a funny example though, because although they are made with the utmost care and craftsmanship–the craft is totally unrelated to the function–the quilting is superfluous. Why not just use a blanket made of one piece of fabric instead of cutting up fabric and then re-sewing it together? I love the seriousness, but ridiculousness of it.

It is a process that people have hit a chord with. It satiates our hunger to be meticulous, and to accomplish something technically challenging, but it also fulfills an artistic need to create something for no particular reason at all.

🔺⚪️🔺⚪️🔺

A post shared by Meg Callahan (@mdotcallahan) on

For many aspiring artists, the business side of being an artist is intimidating; however, you seem to do a beautiful job with it. Do you have any advice for artists managing the business side of art?

Thank you. There was a certain point, about a year or two into starting my studio, when I realized that I was on the receiving end: I was allowing other people to guide the direction of my decisions, because I felt that the success of my business depended upon these people.

Screenshot 2016-03-10 08.50.44

I think it is extremely important to gain perspective and listen to the people you work with–whether it be vendors, or gallerists, or customers–however, it is equally important to understand where the line is drawn between being in control of your work and collaborating. Once I understood this difference, I began to create work I was proud of, and to confidently run my business.

It seems so simple, but running your own studio means you get to do whatever you want! That is the point! So do whatever you want–you’re the boss!

That being said, I am constantly failing and learning.

Who Inspires You?

  • Lindsey Adelman. She is an artist, lighting designer, and has thoughtfully and successfully built a studio in a way that I truly admire.
  • My older sister, Kate Callahan. This is her blog. She is voraciously smart, healthy, and has impeccable taste in style, culture and food. She is my constant role model.
  • Vivian Chiu. She is my best friend from school. She is as bad-ass as it gets: A talented woodworker, and she gives the best advice. Her work ethic and dedication constantly inspire me.

+ Are you totally beyond inspired by Meg (like we are)? Let us know in the comments below!

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