I met Troy and his lovely wife Michelle (Meesh) at a quilt show some months ago. As I was strolling down the isles, something stopped me in my tracks. I had never seen anything like this at a quilt show, and after learning more, I was absolutely intrigued!
There are so many people that bring their inspirations from other art forms into their quilt designs, and to see the reverse, and with wood and found objects, was super cool.
I have an affection for wood, in general. When I was a young girl, I spent a lot of time in the garage with my father while he was building something. I love the smell of sawdust! I was never interested in sewing or cooking, or anything that my mother was doing in the house. Of course, that has all changed now. Quilting has bridged a gap in our interests and so much more.
This is the reason Troy’s story has really touched me, and I’m happy to share it with all of you.
Artist Troy Murrah standing in his studio behind an in-progress “The Stingarees“. The piece ended up being 7’x6′.
Troy with “Mother’s Choice”
I’d love to know more about your mother, Judy Murrah, and the influence she had on your life. You have mentioned that she was urging you to create artwork inspired by quilts. Tell me a little more about that?
My mom started as a school teacher. Eventually, she would become an art teacher and then VP of Education & Administration at Quilts, Inc. She decided to become a full-time mom once her second child (my older sister) was born. She sewed continuously at home and made a lot of our clothing, etc. I was her third child and once I was about 3 years old, and we were all a little more manageable, she went back to teaching. However, this time teaching sewing classes at night. When I think back on it, I’m amazed at how much energy she had. She would take care of three kids during the day until my dad got home, then go teach a class, come home, and sew some more late into the night. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and still hear her on one of her sewing machines. The next day she would be up before any of us––ready to do it all over again.
She continued this schedule even until I was old enough to go off to college. I remember in my early teens, if a sleepover was being organized with my friends and there was maybe the possibility of us trying to sneak out at night to meet some of the neighborhood girls, we couldn’t stay at my house. We all knew my mom would still be awake working and would probably catch us. I suppose I inherited her “night-owl” work approach, because it is absolutely a part of my mode of operation today; get the kids to bed, then go do a lot of my layout and design work late into the night.
So, thinking more on that, she was definitely my biggest creative influence. One of my first memories was of her drawing with me, and I loved drawing ever since. But I honestly don’t think she thought I was going to pursue art as a career. I would be cutting and pasting at an early age, and she would be impressed with my cutting skills, then she’d say, “Oh, you’re already so good with your hands and scissors, I bet you’re going to be successful surgeon one day.” Later on, she realized that was not going to happen, but she still strongly encouraged me to pursue a creative field.
Although, as most parents do with their children, she was worried about how I was going to make money just being an artist. So, a lot of the encouraging was to go into a field like architecture, illustration, or graphic design, etc., something besides being a “starving artist.” But at the same time, going to art museums and seeing what some of these “starving artists” had created throughout history was very important for us as a family. Whatever town we were visiting, we had to visit their museum of art. Even if I was traveling with my dad, she made him promise to take me to an art museum wherever we were going.
Once I was older and taking part in gallery art shows, she would look at my pieces and say I should involve a quilt in there somewhere. At the time, I was doing mixed media/acrylic or oil figurative work, and the idea of throwing a quilt in there was ridiculous. I feel, also, in the back of my mind I didn’t want to do it because that was already my “mom’s thing.” I didn’t want to ride on my mom’s “quilted” coattails. It’s sad, but it couldn’t have happened any other way. When she passed away a year and a half ago I finally decided to make one quilt inspired piece using leftover material from my set design jobs, studio construction jobs, and from some furniture found on the side of the road. It was basically a multi-layered wooden quilt. Surprisingly, the making of it was easy and almost instinctual. Also, more importantly, it was really fun!! This, combined with how well it was received by people made it easy to decide to make more. And that’s what I do now, broadening the initial concept by using more variety of materials and also not doing just wall hangings. Now I’m starting to incorporate these “quilt inspired designs” on furniture like headboards, coffee tables, bedside tables etc., and even into entry floors. I create art to live with and to use.
“Mother’s Choice”: 18″x18″, made from salvaged wood, light lavender paint, and brass (frame). Mother’s Choice pattern. Features engraving of midcentury wallpaper pattern
“Go West, Mary”: 36″x36″, made from salvaged wood, paint, and brass (frame). Variation of lone star. Features engravings of Mary Poppins, grapevines, early settlers, and ‘hidden’ Batmans
“Farida’s Enchanted Wallpaper”: 36.25″x36.5″, made from salvaged wood and paint. Burgoyne Surrounded. Features engravings of Hogwarts castle and vintage bathroom wallpaper (from his mother-in-law’s bathroom!)
“Farida’s Enchanted Wallpaper” (detail)
“Doe, A Deer” (detail): 28″x28″, made from salvaged wood and Ford Blue car paint. Variation of lone star. Features engravings of Maria from the Sound of Music and a pattern from an antique oriental vase
“Station Wagon Under the Pines” (detail): 26.25″x17.25″, made from salvaged wood and paint. Lone Star. Features engravings of station wagons, car engines, and pine needles
End table using “Mother’s Choice” block pattern
It was such a nice surprise to see your work at Road2CA! Tell me what reaction you received from the quilting community?
Haha… honestly, at first, I was saying to myself, “this is weird, what am I doing here? Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.” But, that quickly changed. The
“normal quilters” seemed to really love my creations and really appreciated the twist I was putting on the conventional fabric quilts. There were a few confused viewers that asked if the “Built Quilts” were puzzles or asked what they were supposed to do with them. Overall, it was a very positive and encouraging experience. It was especially nice to meet a few people who remembered my mom and hear a few stories about her that I never heard before.
What are you dreams? Where would you like Built Quilt to take you, your wife Michelle and your family, literally and figuratively?
I would love to get to a place financially where making “Built Quilts” is all we had to focus on getting out there in the world. Showing in big, legit, straight up art galleries again and having some museums acquire pieces; whatever we gotta do to have more and more eyes on the art.
“Just Joustin” 18”x18”. The engraved pattern is made up of imagery from old medieval manuscripts. Then we’ve got the repurposed @ikeausa shelving, 1980s dresser, leftover siding, and luan wood
Have you ever considered making a quilt using textiles?
Yep, but I would use something like an old tarp, or some aged canvas from a circus tent along with the wood, metal, and/or plexiglass that I’m generally already using. I don’t have any intentions to make full-on textile quilts, but who knows, maybe in 10 years it will be a different story.
I love the idea that you use “found” objects to create your works. Where are some of the most interesting places you have collected your supplies?
Metal from a large 12” (3.66 meters) tall Adidas logo I welded for Snoop Dogg to use as a back drop for a concert sponsored by the shoe company; wood I saved from a 19th century barn that was on my old Texas property; and some material left over from a studio I was working on for one of Bruno Mars’ producers… just to name a few.
Troy salvaging a 1930’s piano to be used in his work
I brought a little piece of Troy back to France with me, and also bought a set for my mother!
For me, life is all about putting together pieces, to make something whole. We do that with fabric, communities and so much more. It brought me great joy to see what Troy is creating, and how he is giving new life to things that would be put in the trash. May we all continue to inspire each other and be kind to one another.
Thank you for reading… Sheila