Meet the Artist: Birgit Ruotsala

the artist studio | aug. 2017

The artist with her quilt "Margit."In what medium do you work?

My primary medium is fiber art, specifically quilting although I do a lot of different fiber related things (weaving, felting, stitching). The work that I am exhibiting, lecturing about and teaching is centered around quilting.

When were you first interested in art and what time did you know it would be a part of your life?

I grew up in an extended family full of artists and craftsmen so there was never a time when art wasn't a part of my life. I studied art throughout my school years. In the '80s I concentrated on weaving and traveled around the USA and Canada teaching a technique that I developed and wrote a book about. Although I settled into a career working in the church, art was also a vehicle for expression for spirituality. In the '90s I returned to college to study art therapy. It wasn't until I retired in 2013 that I was able to devote my full attention to being an artist.

Where do you draw inspiration?

My work falls into two categories: portraits and mandalas. I have enjoyed the various techniques and processes in quilting that I use to make portrait quilts. I especially love to give life to the eyes of my subjects – you know the old saying “the eyes are the window to the soul." Right now I have two quilts traveling in a national exhibit. The exhibit called “HERstory" highlights the lives of 100 women and their accomplishments. I chose two women to make quilts about: Betty White: a television legend and Margit Olson: a lady of love. The Betty White quilt was done as a pen and ink sketch on cotton fabric then heavily quilted with black, grey and white threads. Margit's quilt started as a photograph printed on cloth then enhanced with ink, paint and thread.

My loves of mandalas lead me to start painting mandalas as part of my art therapy studies and they continue to be part of my work. I love the color, pattern and movement that is created with the mandala form. The largest mandala quilt that I have made is a reproduction of a pen & ink/watercolor painting that I created after my father passed away in the '80s. As a quilt, it has 1,581 appliqued pieces. This quilt is part of a current national exhibit in Virginia called “Sacred Threads."

How much of a role has living in Northeastern Wisconsin played in your work?

I am originally from Escanaba, Michigan. We moved to Green Bay in 2001. I had a full-time job and did not pursue many artistic outlets while I was employed. After my retirement in 2013, I sought out many art organizations and found so much support from the art community. Fiber Artisans, Green Bay Area Embroiderers Guild and Evergreen Quilt Guild feed my love for fiber arts and Green Bay Art Colony provides me with opportunities for engaging with other women artists from the whole range of art mediums. These groups continue to push my art in new directions through the programs that they offer. Living in Green Bay has the feel of living in a small town with all the support, inspiration and stimulation that a larger city would provide.

If you have a favorite quote or words of advice for aspiring artists, please share them here:

Some of my favorite quotes: “Do or do not. There is no try." – Yoda; One isn't a series – try 20 or 30! FINISHED: NOT PERFECT! In other words, keep at it – lots and lots of work. We all start as beginners and need to create a body of work to start understanding what we have to say and find our voice.

Where should we direct others to view your work?

My work is primarily shown in quilt exhibits, through my classes and lectures. If interested, people may contact me at

The Green Bay Art Colony, founded in 1915, is the oldest art group in Green Bay. The Green Bay Art Colony is a woman's organization that promotes the arts in the community through exhibitions and scholarships.

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