Columbus Artist Dre McLeod Discusses the Inspiration for Her Eye-Catching Textile Collages
The West Virginia native uses repurposed materials to put a modern spin on traditional quilting while educating her audience about textile waste.
Even if you don’t know Dre McLeod’s name, you might know her art. Her pieces—which she calls “textile collages”—adorn the walls of Dough Mama and Law Bird, and her embellished jean jackets are for sale at the Little Light Collective. Her bright, abstract, patchwork designs—always made from repurposed materials—have a modern feel, but are rooted in traditional Appalachian quilting. McLeod grew up in West Virginia and studied fashion design at Savannah College of Art and Design. She moved to Columbus in 2016 and became a full-time artist the following year. In March, she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2023.
Were you always interested in art from a young age? I won an art contest in the first grade, and I was like, “This is what I want to do.” But I was encouraged to pick something [else], because I wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist. So I picked fashion design. And that’s what I studied at SCAD. And I hated it. It was really frustrating, and it didn’t come naturally to me. But I’m really glad I went to SCAD, because I picked up a lot.
What did you want to do after graduation? When I left, I started in visual merchandising. But really, I just wanted to make quilts, because I became obsessed with textiles while studying fashion design. I started making a quilt my senior year. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers were quilters, so I always loved quilts.
How much has the tradition of Appalachian quilting influenced your work? Quilts obviously are super important to me because my current work is an evolution of quilting. Even when the work doesn’t necessarily look like a quilt, it still has those roots in quilting. I think there’s this separation of art and craft. And I think there are a lot of people challenging that. I’m not the first person to [talk] about this. I don’t think that they are separate. I think it’s easier to say craft is lowbrow or isn’t as valuable as art. But to me, they are equally valuable. I’m trying to bridge what I do between art and craft. Because I think of myself as an artist, but I am also a craftsperson. And I’m carrying on those traditions that are literally in my family. They’re from my region—and a lot of places all over the world.
When did you commit to only using repurposed fabrics? It was probably 2013. I learned about the degree of how big textile waste was, how bad it was. And that’s when I was like, “Well I’ve been doing it already, like halfway, and it’s been working really well for me. … This is a good reason to commit myself to this.” I can talk about that as part of my mission as an artist, and then other people might learn about textile waste, and they may not know about it.
Where does your inspiration come from? It’s kind of just whatever moves me, and that changes a lot. Currently, I’m really into architecture, which you can see in some of my work. I’ll get really into certain genres of art, most recently art deco. Right now I’m feeling baroque, where I’m like, “Things are about to go off the rails, I think, in this completely different direction.”
See Dre McLeod’s work at dremcleod.com and @itsdremcleod on Instagram.
This story is from the May 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.