St Paul Pioneer Press

New exhibit will be coziest Prince tribute yet

Ross Raihala March 14, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Marliss Jensen’s relationship with Prince began in 1985, just as the Minneapolis-based master dyer was opening up her own Iris Color Studio.

“I was working mainly for the theaters in town, doing dyeing projects for the Children’s Theatre and Chanhassen (Dinner Theatres),” Jensen said. “Someone called me and asked if I could dye something for Prince. I think it was some fringe and some lace that needed to be purple. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time, but they kept bringing me more work.”

Jensen ended up spending more than a decade custom-coloring fabric that was used not only for Prince’s outfits, but for his dancers and band members. In addition to working on many of Prince’s most iconic costumes, she also dyed everything from gloves and socks to guitar straps and the fabric lining on Paisley Park’s pool table.

Minneapolis-based master fabric dyer Marliss Jensen created this quilt, dubbed “Fallinlove2nite,” using sample swatches from textiles she custom dyed for Prince from 1985 to 1996. It’s one of 24 quilts in the juried exhibit “Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince,” which opens March 9 at Minneapolis’ Textile Center.   

As she does with all her jobs, Jensen saved the Prince-related sample swatches, as she often needed to refer back to them. By the time the Purple One began transitioning from bright colors to darker, more subdued suits, Paisley Park stopped calling. But Jensen held on to that box of swatches.

When Minneapolis’ Textile Center put out a call last year for quilts honoring the memory of Prince, Jensen dug out that box. She cranked up the Prince tunes and devoted the month of December to the project.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do at first, so I put them all into piles according to their colors,” she said. “Every day, different things were revealed to me. I didn’t have to work very hard, I just had to let it happen. I think his spirit channeled through me.”

She dyed a piece of moleskin from a museum project purple and used that as the base. Inspired by Swiss painter Johannes Itten’s book “The Elements of Color,” she arranged the scraps into a rainbow flag-style display that ran from light at the top to dark at the bottom.

“I wanted to maintain the quality of the swatches and not just sew them all together,” she said. Jensen then created a border and fashioned an image of Paisley Park at the top, using extra fabric to color in the windows.

“I had no idea if I was even going to like it,” she said. “But I’m really happy with it. There’s so much of his life in it.”


Jensen’s quilt is one of two dozen that make up the exhibit “Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince,” which opens with a reception March 9 and runs through April 29.

Karl Reichert, the Textile Center’s executive director, came up with the idea after Prince died in April.

“Like everyone in Minnesota, the news was shocking to me,” he said. “A lot of artists and organizations started looking at ways to celebrate and honor this tremendous artist.”

RELATED: A cheeky new revelation about one of Prince’s most notorious stage outfits

By ROSS RAIHALA | | Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: February 27, 2017 at 2:58 pm | UPDATED: February 28, 2017 at 6:45 pm

It turns out one of Prince’s most infamous stage outfits wasn’t quite as cheeky as the world assumed.

In 1991, the Purple One performed his sexually charged hit “Gett Off” at the MTV Video Music Awards clad in a yellow lace suit with a big surprise in the back: Two oval-shaped cutouts in the trousers revealed Prince’s bare butt cheeks, a fashion statement that earned him global headlines.

Carolyn Mazloomi, one of the nation’s experts in African American quilting, served as the juror and curator for “Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince.”

He turned to Carolyn Mazloomi, a member of the center’s National Artist Advisory Council, to act as the juror. The Baton Rouge native spent her career working as an aerospace engineer while creating quilts in her free time. In the mid-’80s, she founded the Women of Color Quilting Network and established herself as one of the nation’s foremost experts in African-American quilting.

“She’s got a wonderful personality and I can see why she’s become such a powerful advocate for the art,” Reichert said. “She is an evangelist for quilting.”

Mazloomi, who now lives in Ohio, thought the exhibit was a terrific idea. “Every human being is familiar with fabric,” she said. “We as a people have a lifelong affair with cloth, it’s the first thing we’re swaddled in at birth.

“We use quiltmaking to celebrate history. Why not Prince? It felt right.”

And, yes, she’s a fan. “I have a CD of Prince’s greatest hits in my SUV right now,” she said with a laugh. “I’m a 70-year-old Prince fan. I’m old, but not dead, OK? I can still rock.”

Once the Textile Center put out the call for entries, quilts streamed in from across the country. During the curation process, Mazloomi said she looked for “strong composition of the piece, color and construction. The work has to speak to the spirit and say something about the person who is being honored in that work.”

The quilts ran the gamut, from pieces that rendered his image in fabric to works inspired by specific songs. “Some are narrative, others are abstract in nature, and there are a lot of whimsical pieces, too,” Mazloomi said. “They are pulsating, vibrating and alive with Prince’s music.”

“Prince … The Quiet Philanthropist,” by Marjorie Diggs, Freeman, Durham, N.C.

One of the quilts she found most intriguing was “Prince .. The Quiet Philanthropist” by North Carolina artist Marjorie Diggs Freeman.

“Everybody’s familiar with Prince as a voice and a performer,” she said. “But few people thought about all the philanthropic work he was involved in. He was very generous, on so many levels, and was so quiet about it and kept all that giving to himself. Marjorie’s quilt celebrates every facet of his giving and I found that fascinating.”


Mazloomi will be on hand for the opening, and while in town, she’s also presenting the lecture “Building a Legacy: African American Quilt History” on March 11 at St. Paul’s Recovery Church. The event, a co-presentation of the Textile Center and Minnesota Quilters, features performances from singer Dennis W. Spears and the Wolverines Jazz Trio.

“The creation of art, any art form, is a spiritual experience for the creator,” Mazloomi said. “The results are magic and people can feel it because it touches the spirit. It touches the soul. These quilts are pulsating with life, they speak so much love for Prince.”

“In Honor of Prince,” by Betsy Shannon, Minneapolis.  (featured on front page of news article)

Reichert said he thinks the show will spur emotional connections for those who see it. “We said in the call that we wanted to celebrate Prince, his music and his legacy,” he said. “The variety of quilts cover all those bases. Our whole objective was to celebrate this hometown icon who really helped put Minneapolis on the map.”

Jensen, too, is eager to see the quilts together in one space. She credits Prince for helping her get her studio up and running. “It’s going to be really fun,” she said. “There’s some pretty amazing work. And, you know, I have some leftover fabric. I could still do another one.”


What: “Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince,” an exhibition of 24 Prince-inspired quilts created by artists from around the country juried and curated by Carolyn Mazloomi

When: It opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. March 9 and runs through April 29, 2017

Where: Textile Center, 3000 University Ave. S.E., Mpls.

Admission: Free

Also: Mazloomi will present the lecture “Building a Legacy: African American Quilt History” at 6 p.m. March 11, 2017 at the new headquarters of Minnesota Quilters at Recovery Church, 235 S. State St., St. Paul. The event includes live music and a reception. Tickets are $30.

Information: 612-436-0464 or

On Display at WMQFA

Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts

Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince

Featured Artist: Betsy Shannon


This week we caught up with artist Betsy Shannon. Her work never fails to attract attention. "In Honor of Prince" is currently on view and does not

disappoint. We asked Betsy Shannon a few questions about her path to becoming a fiber artist and her crowd-pleasing work.

WMQFA: How did you get involved in expressing yourself through fiber?

Shannon: As a garment sewer since junior high school in the 60's, my quilt passion hit me in the late 90's. I have always loved fabric and color! Before that I had no idea that the quilt world is its own giant industry and growing. I took classes, attended quilt

conventions, joined quilting groups, and built my stash.

WMQFA: How has your work evolved over the years?

Shannon: I cut my first (non-quilt shop) stash into 3" squares, which produced about 25 small to medium

 quilts. I misheard someone. They were talking of cutting up samples of a stash... I was then pulled to art quilts,

 challenges, and competitions. The themes of various challenges fired up my imagination. Seeing my own work displayed in shows, books, and magazines was deeply satisfying. In 2005 my daughter and I started a quilt shop in Grinnell, Iowa. We closed in 2010 because of family responsibilities back in Minneapolis. I was away from quilting for several years caring for my aging parents.

WMQFA: Your piece "In Honor of Prince" is featured in Commemorating His Purple Reign: A Textural Tribute to Prince. What can you tell us about this piece and its connection to the late artist, Prince?

Shannon: I have always admired Prince's career, talent, music, and his loyalty to Minnesota. Friends and family had various connections to him. I was very saddened by his death. Working on the piece was helpful to work through the sadness and also to honor his spirit.

WMQFA: You enhanced the portrait featured on this piece with the use of watercolor pencils and fabric paint providing it with both depth and warmth. Is this multimedia approach indicative of your work?

Shannon: Not necessarily. I love to draw and I love fabric and thread. I started with a body outline from a picture and filled in his face freehand.

When I finished quilting the background. I was disappointed in the lack of 'pop'. I used the fabric paint on a whim. The theme of a piece dictates to me the various mediums to use and also I am trying several forms of mediums throughout my work.

WMQFA: What made you interested in participating in an art quilt exhibition focused on honoring the life and art of Prince?
Shannon: I am a longtime member of the Textile Center of Minnesota. They made the call for the exhibition and I had to respond due to the love of the organization and honoring Prince in a personal way.

WMQFA: Is there anything else you would like to share with our Barn Blast readers?

Shannon: Presently, I am working on a Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics Challenge in which the theme is also

Prince. I am using beading as a component of the design.