Artist Spotlights Series:
Margaret Thorson, Handwoven Rugs and Wearable Art

Welcome to the Artist Spotlights Series, a collection of interviews with local artists. I am pleased to introduce you to Margaret Thorson, an artist currently living and working on Waldron Island Washington. Read on to learn about Margaret's thoughts on making artwork, creativity, and life as an artist. 

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Please share a brief biography, including where you’re from and how you got started as an artist. I'm Margaret Thorson. I have lived on Waldron Island for the last 40 years. I attended the University of Washington and graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Art Education. I learned to weave at the U of W in class and my roommate taught me to knit. With a General Art program I did everything, paint, draw, sculpt, print, make pots, etc., but it was when I walked into the room with all those looms that I knew "This is what I want to learn to do". Margaret Thorson, handwoven rugs and wearable art, San Juan Islands Washington.

I wove for myself off and on and between children until my husband Joel and I got 3 bummer lambs from a friend in 1989.  He decided that if we were going to have sheep and thus wool he'd better learn to spin.  As I already knew how to weave I took his hand spun yarn and started making rugs out of it that I sold at the Farmer's Market.  Over the next 20 some years I expanded my weaving offerings to include rag rugs, scarves, kitchen wares and hand knit hats.  

Joel and I run a market garden on Waldron growing vegetables and flowers to sell at the Farmer's Market in Friday Harbor.  I share one of the artists booths out at Roche Harbor each summer and have my things in Island Studios in Friday Harbor. I participate in the June Studio Tour and in Artstock as a guest artist as getting people to my studio on Waldron is a bit complicated.

Why do you do what you do?

Primarily because I love to make things.  And from a practical point of view living in a place like Waldron where you have to create your own jobs, turning any skills we have into making a living was a necessity.

Margaret Thorson, woven rugs, Waldron Island Washington.

What jobs have you done, other than being an artist?

I've worked as a children's librarian, a substitute teacher at the Friday Harbor high school, I'm a farmer (I weave in the winter and weed in the summer), I've taught piano lessons, worked as a file clerk at Boeing, as a waitress, sewed mattress covers for a small mattress company in Seattle when I was in college, pretty much anything that will bring in a buck.

What role, if any, does an artist play in society?

We keep reminding people that there's more to life than money and practical concerns.  Art makes you think and see and feel beyond the ordinary everyday.

What do you like/dislike about the art world?

I love my fellow artists, seeing what they do, talking about making things, sharing ideas and color schemes, a dye recipes, etc.

What is “creativity”?

Making, designing, putting things and ideas together in uniquely personal ways.

Margaret Thorson, woven rugs, Waldron Island Washington.

What motivates you to begin a new project, and what keeps you going?

Well, since I am presently filling  my tubs with product for the coming selling season, what's sold out, what colors are missing from the hat stash?  I read weaving and knitting magazines, spend a lot of time online with other weavers, look at things people are wearing as they come through the Market.  What keeps me going?...  I like to have several projects going at once.  I currently have 4 looms with warps on them with very different projects and the sofa always has a hat in process sitting there.  I can work several hours more a day if I can switch from project to project.  I would have a hard time staying on the same thing all that time.

How do you describe your style?

Practical, earthy, 

Margaret Thorson, handwoven rugs and wearable art, San Juan Islands Washington. Margaret Thorson, handwoven rugs and wearable art, San Juan Islands Washington.

How much time do you spend doing your work every week?

I try to put in 4 or 5 hours 5 days a week this time of year producing.  The looms sit pretty quiet in the summer when the farm takes over and I am spending more time peddling my wares than making them.

Has your work changed over time?  How?

I'm working with finer threads, more complex patterning, more colors.  I started with natural colored wools which I love but after a while I crave something bright.

Margaret Thorson, woven rugs, Waldron Island Washington.

What artist(s) would you most like to be compared to?

I have no idea.

If there was no chance of ever being paid, would you still do your work?


Describe yourself in 3 words.

farmer, artist, teacher

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

At my age, retired from production work but still making things for myself and friends and family probably, if not dead.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

Just plunge in and do it.  Don't worry about cleaning the house. Make a mess.  Don't take flack from anyone about what you are doing. Try things. Discard what you don't like. Try again.  Have fun.  Make things.

Margaret Thorson, woven rugs, Waldron Island Washington.

This interview with Margaret Thorson for the Artist Spotlights Series was completed on February 8, 2013. For more information about Margaret and her work, please visit her Etsy shop, thousandflower.

Read more Artist Spotlights! Check out Robin AtkinsPatti BarkerYvonne Buijs-MancusoCinda Sue DowBeth Hetrick, Peggy Sue McRaeJan MurphyKevin RothTom SmallLewis SpauldingNancy SpauldingVirginia Van Camp, or Paula West.

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