Originally trained as a painter, Therese May taught herself to make quilts in the 1960s. She started with simple patchwork quilts for family and friends, but soon moved on to creating one-of-a-kind pictures with cloth. In 1985, May received an award for “Most Innovative Use of Medium” in the Quilt National, and in 1999 one of her quilts was chosen by a panel of 29 quilt experts as one of the 100 best American quilts of the 20th century. Her quilts have been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Louvre in Paris, France, and can be found in numerous private and public collections, including the Museum of Arts & Design in New York.
How did you get started as an artist?
“When I was five, I came home from kindergarten and showed my parents a drawing I had done of twins. They told me it was beautiful. I believed them. It was then I decided to be an artist. It felt so good to make beautiful things for myself and others. Drawing and painting have always been my media, but it was not until I began making quilts in the mid-1960s that I felt I was a part of a much larger conversation that included more opportunities for exhibiting and selling my work. As I gained visibility and began to be known, I also started giving lectures and teaching workshops.”
Who or what has influenced your art the most?
“My grandmother nurtured my creativity in so many ways, because I spent a lot of time at her house when I was young. I watched her as she created an atmosphere of caring by working with what she had. She knitted mittens for all of her many grandchildren by just looking at the hand and then making the mittens with no pattern. She cooked delicious meals by using up the various foods in the fridge. She sewed dresses for me by measuring me, drawing a pattern on newspaper, pinning it to the fabric, cutting, and sewing. She was intuitive, creative, and caring.”
Where do you get your best ideas?
“I get a lot of great ideas from looking at other art and just from my own imagination. But I think my best ideas evolve from just doing the work and discovering new things that come out of the process of creating the art.”
What is your studio like?
“I have a beautiful, large room at the back of my house with windows all around looking out at the fruit trees in our back yard. There is storage all around the edge and plenty of table space to work on my quilts. It’s also large enough for the classes that I teach here. Another room has my computer, plus a big design wall for working on the quilts.”
What do you keep in your studio to inspire you?
“My studio is full of shelves of fabric, all organized by color, and jars of buttons and beads. I love the materials I work with, and I find it inspiring to be surrounded by color, pattern, and potential.”
What do you love about what you do?
“When I am working, I am always learning something about myself or resolving something. I am allowing myself play time, creating and enjoying for its own sake. I love to go into my studio and spend time sewing, painting, drawing, and knowing that it’s my own time and my own way of doing something.”