Artist Mary Beth McGinnis creates upholstery as art, using iconic imagery and 3D elements to make one-of-a-kind pieces. See more of her work on her website.
It was the late seventies, and I was college bound. Women were, at long last, making strides literally and figuratively in college athletics and beyond. I witnessed this firsthand as a D1 swimmer at Indiana University. It was an exciting time; women were suddenly legit competitors in sport while at the same time finding footholds in the business, tech and science world.
I was determined to be part of this movement and have a career in something that was not art (silly youth!) This led to my degree in mathematics and a career in tech, all while ignoring my love of art and years of classes.
After thirteen years in systems development alongside the production of three fine children, I retired from tech and finally permitted myself to revisit my first love—art. I started by taking painting classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.
I painted for a few years, then motherhood became my chief priority. This led to my next stage of life, running the youth club swim team that our kids competed on. Before I knew it, ten years passed.
The new decade brought me back again to art. I stumbled upon upholstery by accident. It all started at a garage sale where I found a couple of cool vintage chairs. When I took them to get reupholstered, not only did it cost a fortune, but the upholsterer questioned my mixing and matching of fabrics.
Frustrated, I came home and mentioned to my husband that I needed to learn how to upholster. He was paying attention, and voila! I was gifted a weekend upholstery class the next Christmas. It was enough to give me the confidence to try and to learn the tools of the trade. My next goal was to upholster my dining room chairs. I took very detailed notes as I took pieces apart so I would understand how to put them back together.
I eventually discovered that I could get anything printed on fabric, so I used some of my daughter’s (SCAD, 2021) artwork to get more creative with upholstery. Collaborations with other artists enabled me to further develop my upholstery skills, while pushing the boundaries of upholstery as art. That ultimately led me to incorporate 3D elements, such as flowers, buttons and tacks.
Searching for inspiration, I did a deep dive into fashion, creating a Who Wore it Best series. Inspired by my own collaborations with other artists, I then moved on to a What if series. For example, what if Georgia O’Keeffe and Yayoi Kusama were having drinks in a bar? What would they create together?
That led to trying to figure out how to use more classical art concepts in upholstery, and brought me to where I am today.
I find peace and joy in the creative process. I’m constantly on the lookout for the next inspiration. Any day that I get to create is a truly fabulous day.
Artist Mary Beth McGinnis invites you to follow her on Instagram.