Grand Rapids

Landscape quilts are fine art born of pain

Landscape quilts are fine art born of pain  

Ann Loveless - 2013 ArtPrize winner for "Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore"

Ann Loveless - 2013 ArtPrize winner for "Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore"

West Michigan knows the story of Ann Loveless, the extraordinary Frankfort quilter whose panoramic quilt of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore won the 2013 ArtPrize competition.

ArtPrize is the nation’s biggest art competition, drawing 1,800 artists and 1,500 entries to Grand Rapids last fall. Loveless was presented with a $200,000 for winning the show’s popular vote  -- reportedly the most money paid for any quilt in history.

Loveless’s success has launched landscape quilts into the realm of fine art. Until she won ArtPrize, most people thought of quilting as a craft.

An Ann Loveless creation is not your Grandmother’s quilt. You wouldn’t throw one on a bed. These works are displayed like the oil paintings many people mistake them for.

What you don’t know

The part of Loveless’s story that you haven’t heard is how she became a quilter.

Arthritis is the villain of that chapter. Or, in retrospect, maybe it’s the hero.

Loveless worked many years as a seamstress until arthritis developed in her hands and wrists from overuse. She loved sewing, but it became too painful.

“I think the damage was done by ripping out hems,” Ann said after a Sept. 12 lecture titled “An Artist’s Journey From Art Quilts to Art Prize” at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. “I can’t pull things apart. I have to hire someone to pull weeds in my garden.”

So, 10 years ago, during an alterations-induced arthritis flare-up, Ann’s doctor suggested that she find other work.

“Not happening,” Ann thought.

Sewing had always played a starring role in her life. She was aiming for a career as a fashion designer when she earned a bachelor’s degree in clothing and textiles at Michigan State University in 1982. Instead, she chose to return home to Frankfort, marry photographer Steve Loveless, and raise a family. But she stayed in touch with her calling by creating custom bedding and draperies.

She can’t imagine her life without bolts of fabric and spools of thread.

Finding another way

The arthritis wasn’t leaving so Loveless resolved to find a way to sew that didn’t bother her hands.

That’s when she focused her creative energies on quilting. She had made some traditional quilts in the past, but knew the arthritis wouldn’t permit long periods of hand sewing.

Over the last nine years, Loveless has developed or perfected three unique quilting techniques, which she gets invitations to teach to quilting guilds around the nation.

  • Collage. She creates these quilts from the top down by placing colorful pieces of fabric onto a background, then free-motion quilting the scene with a long-armed sewing machine.
  • Confetti. Loveless arranges tiny pieces of fabric mosaic style and fuses them onto a background. Detail pieces are added in the foreground with other fabric scraps, yarns and ribbons. The scene is then free-motion machine quilted.
  • Impressionistic. Loveless creates these wall quilts by layering pieces of fabric under a polyester tulle netting, and then free-motion machine quilting them in place.

Loveless’s “Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore” quilt, now owned by ArtPrize, includes raw-edge applique. Over 400 hours, she fashioned it from 30 yards of fusible web and about 75 yards of batiks and cotton print fabrics.

At 20 feet long and 5-feet wide, Loveless had to duct-tape the four panels of the quilt to the walls in a long hallway of a church to line up the visual elements.

The life of an artist

Loveless said her challenge now is balancing her time between teaching and creating. A quilt commissioned by Michigan State University was unveiled at the institution’s Medical School in Grand Rapids on Sept. 20.

There are no patterns for an Ann Loveless art quilt. She doesn’t even use tracing paper. She works in the company of her three dogs in her home studio by looking at photographs shot by her husband, Steve.

Their favorite subjects? Birch trees, flowers, ferns, sunsets, sparkling water and glistening snow and other natural features of Northern Michigan.

What’s the secret to creating a breathtaking landscape quilt?

“Dune grass,” Loveless said. “When I step back and ask myself what it needs, it’s always more dune grass.”

The Loveless’s work can be seen at their gallery, State of the Art Framing & Gallery in Beulah.

Check out Ann’s website at and Steve’s website at

Has a disability or medical condition forced you to find new ways to continue your vocation or a hobby? Tell us how you made it work.