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Check out Marty Ornish’s Artwork

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marty Ornish.

Marty, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I first became interested in sewing as a young child, learning from my mother how to make doll clothes by hand.  I am an accidental artist. Most of my life I was a social worker, where I worked with disadvantaged young women who were victims of physical and sexual assault, as well as having worked as a medical social worker at UCSD Medical Center.  I realized having a law degree would help me in my role as a social worker. I continued to work full time as a social worker while attending law school, and in 1989 I received my Juris Doctorate from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law following which I practiced as a private practice attorney and subsequently as a research attorney for the Superior Court of San Diego, until I became a full time mom after the birth of my second son in 1993.  After my two boys began middle school, I resumed sewing for pleasure, and became introduced to art quilts. I began upcycling denim jackets for myself, which led to requests by others to have custom jackets made for them. I experienced a burst of creative energy when sewing that has only increased with time, perhaps because I spent so many years as a therapist, “talking for a living,” and now I feel a drive to make art.

In 2013, while serving as a volunteer at Visions Art Museum in San Diego, I learned of  an upcoming exhibit of wearable art and inquired if I could enter a piece, since I was making upcycled wearable art at that time. I submitted my portfolio, was accepted into the upcoming exhibit, and was given the challenge of making a dress only out of hats.   At the opening of “Second Time Around: Fashion Recycled,” my name tag stated “artist,” and until that moment my identity had been one of a stitcher, quilter, and seamstress rather than that of an artist. It was not until I entered and won several wearable art exhibitions that I began seeing myself as an artist.  My art has evolved over the last decade as I experiment and push myself into new directions.

My studio is a converted guest bedroom, and much to my husband’s chagrin, I have also taken over our two-car garage with a weaving loom, racks of wearable art, and bins of supplies.  There were several years where my studio was in our living room, as no other space was available.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
My long-standing interest in producing art in an ecologically sustainable way has changed the palette of materials I use.  Instead of creating art from commercial fabrics, my goal has been to incorporate abandoned, ruined vintage quilts, and antique linens such as doilies, hankies, and embroidered items.  My work is material-driven, which creates wonderful creative challenges. The scarcity of each quilt I use forces me to design carefully, with zero-waste as my goal. I feel compelled to find a method to reuse these once loved, well-worn items and repurpose them to create dramatic fashion ensembles suitable for the “green runway”.  Some people refer to this style as “Eco-couture.” The more damaged the quilt, like a fine old wine, the greater the artistic and technical challenge to me to breathe into it new life. I find great beauty and artistic satisfaction turning “ruined” quilts into artistic creations.

Moreover, my goal is to find a way to reuse these damaged fabrics to counter the extreme waste and economic exploitation in the “fast-fashion” industry. The low prices for fast-fashion we enjoy in the Western world  is the result of cheap, sweat-shop labor by women, children, (and men) working for slave wages in dangerous conditions in third-world countries. My hope is that viewers of my work will directly experience and have their consciousness raised regarding how even “ruined” fabrics can be transmuted into garments of beauty through  “slow-sewing,” and consider changing their fashion consume habits which leads to much consumer waste and exploitation.

Other pieces of my work have a political dimension to make statements about the objectification and oppression of, and domestic violence towards, women,  My hope is that my work will be a catalyst for conversations about environmental issues and the empowerment of women. Recently, someone saw during the 2018 European Patchwork exhibition at Sainte-Marie-Aux-Mines, France, one of my ensembles titled “Cage a Crinoline” — a blouse and hoop skirt made from a cutter double-ring-pattern quilt with the skirt encaged with a series of wine barrel rings.  One woman shared with me that while viewing my piece, she had the insight that her destructive marriage had become her cage from which she needed to escape.

What do you think it takes to be successful as an artist?
It depends on how you define “success” as an artist.  I love traveling and make it a point to go to museums or galleries wherever I am in the world. Exhibiting around the world provides me new  opportunities to travel, and to be surrounded by other art and meet new artists, These opportunities to travel, exhibit, and make new connections are one of my measures of success   Opportunities to lecture to quilt and art guilds are another source of professional satisfaction, since I can teach others how to reuse and incorporate abandoned textiles in their work, and remake their own clothing, rather than buy fast-fashions.

It is essential to experiment and take risks.  Sometimes I hate a piece I’m working on and invite unvarnished critiques from friends and my husband.  If you are unwilling to fail or accept negative feedback, you will not grow as an artist. To me, part of the fun is getting stuck and discovering a solution through taking a break from the project, research, more experimentation, or  consultation with others. Most of my creative inspirations occur while I sleep and upon awakening I have that “aha” experience and know what my next project will be.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
My next scheduled exhibition is also my first invitational solo show, which will be in October 2019 at Visions Art Museum in San Diego – the only all-contemporary textile art museum in the USA. In 2020, I will be also exhibiting at the Biennale Internationale d’Art Textile. I  post my upcoming exhibits on my website (, as well as Facebook (Marty Ornish) and Instagram (martyo_fiberartist). People who wish support my work can contact me at if they have unwanted damaged vintage quilts and vintage textiles, for such gifts of textiles are commonly incorporated into  my work. An indirect way to support textile artists is to support Vision’s Art Museum by volunteering, or providing financial support.

Contact Info:

  • Website:
  • Phone: (619)300-2251
  • Email:
  • Instagram: MartyO_FiberArtist
  • Facebook: Marty-O

Image Credit:
Photographer Sharon Avraham, from Israel, (for dress in front of the Louvre, Paris, modeled by Alesia Sushko)
The black dress in front of the Salk Institute (Model, Tatiana Slepova, Photographer Joe Belcovson)
All other photos except as noted above by Steven Ornish. Crazy Quilt slacks modeled by Aubry Brown, Hat dress model is Betsy Finklehoo..

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here

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