A grandson and great-grandson of textile-mill workers, Michael James was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He earned a B.F.A. degree at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and an M.F.A. degree at Rochester Institute of Technology, specializing in painting and printmaking. James's nontraditional quilts reveal his fascination with color and form, employing endless combinations to add a spatial context to a two-dimensional surface. He has been particularly influenced by the designs of Amish quilts.
James has traveled througout the world to give letures and workshps on quilts. The author of The Quiltmaker's Handbook: A Guide to Design and Construction and The Second Quiltmaker's Handbook: Creative Approaches to Contemporary Quilt Design, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and is a member of the Quilters' Hall of Fame.
Kenneth R. Trapp and Howard Risatti Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)
Michael James studied painting and printmaking at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. In 1973 he attended a lecture about abstract designs in American quilts and was inspired to work in fabric. The artist remembers that “I felt something for fabric that I didn’t feel for paint.” He originally copied traditional quilt designs, painstakingly piecing and quilting the material together by hand. This developed into more abstract compositions using the “strip-piecing” machine process, in which thin strips of color are joined together to create luminous runs of graduated tones. James’s quilts are inspired by patterns in nature and often evoke whirlpools, waterfalls, clouds, and plants.