Meet Breast Cancer Survivor Mary Ann Nailos: A profile by Jane Dunnewold

Detail from “Supported Pink” by Lisa Thorpe

Have you noticed that the overwhelming color we see in October is no longer orange but pink?

Five years ago, I experienced the October “pink wash” for the first time as a breast cancer survivor. This new perspective led to a firsthand appreciation for the many ways quilt artists, in particular, have reached out and changed the world with their kindness, love, generosity, and art. Since that life-changing experience, I’ve worked with Quilting Arts contributors, the editorial staff, and even a few industry professionals to create and promote content for our annual October issue that raises awareness of this deadly disease.

This is not just a personal crusade

It is well known that expressing hopes, joys, frustrations, and fears through art can be an important part of the healing process. In the October/November 2018 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, Jane Dunnewold has contributed an insightful profile of artist Mary Ann Nailos whose journey with breast cancer has informed her artwork and helped to shape how she sees the world.

“The Tribe” • 11" x 14" Photo by Matt Graves

“The Tribe” (detail) • 11″ x 14″ Photo by Matt Graves

Jane writes:

I met Mary Ann Nailos when she applied to my Art Cloth Mastery Program in 2016. Her résumé was impressive. Her professional side career as a ceramic artist (she works full time as an engineer) garnered awards and inclusion in several prominent books on art ceramics. Why textiles now? Mary Ann explained that her mother was taking quilting classes. It looked like fun. Meeting SAQA members at International Quilt Festival, Houston convinced her she’d found her tribe. Now it was her desire to elevate her quilts to the next level. She was ready to make art.

Mary preparing stamps to add to her quilts. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Nailos

Mary preparing stamps to add to her quilts. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Nailos

Participants in the Mastery Program choose a theme to explore during their studies. I don’t recall Mary Ann’s first theme, because it was derailed in December, 2016. A routine mammogram revealed an invasive ductile carcinoma in her left breast. The surgery in January was followed by two months of chemo and radiation in June and July.

There was never a question about continuing the program. Instead, art became an intentional witness to the experience unfolding around and inside her. As she told me, “The diagnosis sent me into emotional upheaval. And I still had assignments to complete for the program. It would have been easy to make excuses but I decided to explore my emotional turmoil by creating a new series. It gave me something to focus on to express feelings in a real way that I hoped would connect with viewers.”

—Jane Dunnewold

“What’s Swimming in my Gene Pool” • 38" x 35" Photo by Matt Graves

“What’s Swimming in my Gene Pool” (detail) • 38″ x 35″ Photo by Matt Graves

The article continues to explore the art Mary Ann made while healing, and the impact it had on her life as well as the lives of others. As Jane noted, “Cancer isn’t happy and there isn’t always an upbeat ending. We’ve each grieved the loss of someone we loved dearly. And yet, Mary Ann’s story is a reminder that sometimes the only control we have is over how we choose to react to an untenable situation.”

Before they finished their conversation, Mary Ann added this insight:

“Although I don’t want to repeat it, my breast cancer experience was positive in many ways. I have scars, but my body is still strong and I am grateful. Friends were so important to the healing process. I must continue to cherish and nurture them. Through working, I realized I want to make art that tells stories, not only to connect with viewers, but also to mark my own passage on this earth.”

Mary Ann Nailos Photo courtesy of the artist

Mary Ann Nailos Photo courtesy of the artist

And therein lies the potential of the creative process—healing the maker and healing those who view the maker’s work. I’ll look forward to seeing what Mary Ann Nailos makes next.


P.S. Don’t miss this and other insightful articles from Quilting Arts Magazine. You’ll be kept up to date with all of the latest trends in art quilting and contemporary surface design. Subscriptions make great gifts for your friends—or for yourself!

Explore the pages of Quilting Arts Magazine for more inspiration!



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