27 January 2018

Ann Schroeder interview: Natural forces and fiddle music

Ice Dance by Ann Schroeder (2017) w42" x h43”

In 2007, Ann Schroeder moved from Boston to a very different place, Mabou Harbour, Cape Breton Island. There the view of sky, water, meadows and dunes changes every day. She dyes, prints and paints fabric to make fine art quilts inspired by her natural surroundings, the local fiddle and piano music and other intriguing phenomena.

Ann’s work is in the collection of the Nova Scotia Art Bank and has been shown in numerous venues, including Quilt National, the New England Quilt Museum and the Mary Black Gallery in Halifax.

How would you describe your work?

I make fine art quilts. I say “fine art” because I use dyes to paint and print on fabric, then I cut and reassemble the pieces to make an original abstract design. And “quilts” because I have an emotional connection to this (mostly) women’s tradition, which includes the bold geometry of early Amish quilts and the playful improvisation of African-American quilts.

Would you describe your journey towards becoming an artist who works with textiles?

In 1978 I saw a spectacular show of southern Illinois quilts at the Chicago Public Library.  My favorite, a traditional Storm at Sea pattern in blue and yellow, made a strong graphic statement and fooled my eye into seeing curves where there were only straight lines. After seeing that show, I wanted to buy a quilt, but when I couldn’t find just the right one I decided to make my own.  That experience was so satisfying that I began collecting fabric, designing my own patterns and eventually dyeing my own fabric.

A Language Almost Lost
by Ann Schroeder (2015) 37" x 37"

Tell us about your process for creating. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you get from that to a final product?

My inspiration comes from the rich colours and rhythms that surround me, sometimes including the fabrics themselves. I begin by transforming white fabric. I might scrunch, pleat, fold and/or wrap it around a pole before dyeing it. Or I might thicken some dye and use that for silk screening or making monoprints. Sometimes I use pastels, acrylic paint or other media. I occasionally create fabric with a purpose in mind, but more often I decide how to use it later.

With a theme in mind but without a definite plan, I cut fabric, sew it together, and then cut it again, allowing shapes and lines to emerge, interact and form a composition. I usually finish the pieces with machine quilting, but sometimes I do hand quilting with embroidery floss and large irregular stitches.

I want my quilts to be well crafted, but I’m most interested in the overall visual statement.  In my work as a whole, I try to suggest the complexity of life.

Garden Song 2 by Ann Schroeder (2015) w30" x h27”
Many artists find it rewarding to work in series. How has that worked for you?

Garden Song 3 by Ann Schroeder (2-16) w58"x h46"
Years ago a more experienced artist gave me some excellent advice: that it’s best to look back at my own work for inspiration. What ideas can I try again and how can I vary them? That way, I can continue to evolve my own style rather than imitating others. Working in series is one way of doing this.

Natural Forces and Fiddle Music are two of my series.

Natural Forces:
I’m constantly inspired by natural forces: wind, weather, the curves of the hills, changing skies, dandelions dotting the meadows, ice breaking up and reforming, waves out on the ocean or wild orchids blooming. The fine art quilts in this series are my attempt to capture some of my feelings about these forces that affect our lives every day. These quilts are constructed with curvy lines that flow together.

Ice Dance, illustrated above, is part of this series. Garden Songs 2 and 3, with curvy lines that are silk screened, and Water Ways, which began with a large monoprint, are also related to this series.

Water Ways by Ann Schroeder (2016) w40" x h26”

Dusky Meadow by
Ann Schroeder (2017) w22" x h51”

Fiddle Music:
Cape Breton fiddle melodies have flowing lines and the piano keeps the rhythm strong. I’ve been trying to translate the complex melodies and rhythms into visual images for years. 

Dusky Meadow and Reel in A are two different approaches to this challenge. Dusky Meadow was inspired by the late fiddler Willie Kennedy and the colours that his playing evoked. It was named for one of the tunes on his album.

What (non-fibre) artists, either historic or contemporary, have inspired you and why?

Recently I’ve been looking at Oscar Murillo, a young painter who is freeform and wild and who sews large pieces of canvas together to make constructed paintings (he certainly doesn’t call them quilts!). At a show two years ago at MOMA in New York, some of his paintings were in a pile on the floor and viewers could pick them up to look at them.

I also admire Mark Bradford, an abstract collage painter whose work is beautiful as well as political. And I’ve always liked work from the Abstract Expressionists, including Joan Mitchell.

Do you engage in other artistic or creative endeavors?

I’ve been learning to accompany Cape Breton fiddle tunes on the piano. This is an improvised style, done by ear. I like to think about what music and visual art have in common. The notes are like colours and the rhythms are like those in a visual composition.

Reel in A by Ann Schroeder (2011) w48" x h20”

Do you treat art like a job, going to the studio each day at a particular time?

Fortunately art is my job, but for me one of the advantages of being self-employed is having a flexible schedule. Summer months are focused more on selling (and spending time outdoors) and late fall through spring is my time for production. Every day is different.

How do you show and sell your quilts? Where can your work be seen?

I display a quilt every other week at the Mabou Farmers Market, where I also sell my hand-dyed scarves. I show two quilts in the annual Hands Dancing show at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts every year and I occasionally enter other shows.

Most of my quilts are displayed and sold at my home studio in Mabou Harbour. People find me during the tourist season through my website, the Nova Scotia tourism website, and the Artisan Trail Map published by capebretoncraft.com. In my experience, people are much more likely to purchase artwork when they can meet and talk with the artist. Sometimes people call ahead, but usually they just arrive, so I have to be flexible about interruptions.

What are your goals for the coming year?

I want my artwork to become more experimental, messier, and not necessarily always adhere to a quilt format. Maybe try collages on paper. Or use canvas instead of cotton fabric. Or not finish the edges. Break my own rules. This may take more than a year.


View more of Ann's work and watch her video, at Ann Schroeder Studio.


  1. Glad to see Ann's beautiful pieces here, I really like the looser style!

  2. About 20 years ago we became the lucky owners of one of Ann's quilts. The quilt is a beloved piece of art that has adorned the wall of our house for those many years. As I scroll through the beautiful images of Ann's colorful fIne art quilts, I am reminded that Ann is a real treasure.