What’s the key to running a business while maintaining an art practice? “I pretty much work seven days a week,” says designer and fiber artist Maggie Thompson. And there’s a good reason: The 28-year-old not only machine-knits cowls, hats, and scarves for Makwa Studio in vibrant patterns influenced by her Ojibwe heritage, she also manages Two Rivers Gallery in her hometown of Minneapolis, dedicated to nurturing the careers of emerging Native artists. Plus she creates concept-driven work exploring contemporary Native identity, and she recently finished a multiyear collaborative project, designing, sewing, and overseeing production of a 4,000-square-foot quilt for an all-night outdoor performance.
It sounds like a lot, but as a young maker, Thompson has a hard time saying no to opportunities. It helps that each of these demanding roles – running a business, creating deeply personal artwork, and nurturing her community – satisfies essential parts of her.
Thompson first learned to knit, crochet, and quilt at the Waldorf school she attended. The daughter of artists – her mother is a painter and photographer; her late father was a graphic designer and musician – she went on to study architecture at Rhode Island School of Design. Thompson loved the mathematical rigor of the program but missed working with her hands, and textile classes soon revealed a new path. “I’ve always loved making, knitting – it was just never something I thought of as a career,” she says. Learning about print design and interior fabrics, however, “opened a whole new world.” In her third year, the artist changed course and transferred into the textiles program.
After graduating in 2013, Thompson returned to Minneapolis. She founded Makwa Studio the next year, when she realized her love of knitting could be a business. Her bold designs, accentuated by the uniform stitches of the knitting machine, are rendered in soft, fine-grade wool and a wool-silk blend. The former architecture student says she’s drawn to the challenge of designing structural patterns (“It’s what makes me excited”) and the satisfaction of creating functional work. After all, with a plate this full, producing Makwa Studio wares can have a straightforward appeal. Sometimes, Thompson says, “it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to knit a cowl.”
Making It All Fit
Go-getter: Maggie Thompson has always been an entrepreneur. In seventh grade, she started a lawn-care business with her best friend. For a few summers, the two girls spent four days a week mowing lawns and managing a small staff.
It takes a village: How does Thompson juggle her demanding roles? She says there are moments when you just have to set everything else aside and realize that it’s “time to haul ass and finish one piece of a project.” Having a large support system, particularly her mother and friends, also makes all the difference. “This past year, I don’t know how I would have got through everything without them.”
Stargazer: Thompson gathered fabric squares containing community-inspired well-wishes from all over the US to create an enormous quilt for an outdoor performance piece.
Learn more about Then a Cunning Voice and a Night We Spend Gazing at Stars, Thompson’s larger-than-life collaboration with choreographer Emily Johnson. Coming soon!