Marlene Gaxiola




Marlene Gaxiola




Marlene Gaxiola


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Salser Family Foundation


Boonville, CA


Kim Greene


Note: Molly Johnson Martinez volunteered to translate.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am in Boonville, California doing an interview with Marlen Gaxiola. It is March 6 and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, and it is 8:58 in the morning. Thank you for coming. Tell me about the quilt you brought to the interview today.

Marlen Gaxiola (MG): The thing that inspired me was that I have this picture and it is called the "Virgin of the United Nations" and I want to do it because of the conflict that is happening right now between the people who don't have papers and the people in this country. She is the protector of the Mexican people and she is here too the United States.

KM: So we are talking about the central figure in the middle of the quilt?

MG: Yes. The Virgin does a lot of miracles and you just have to ask her for miracles and she gives them to people, so I thought it would be really great if she could help the nations connect and be able to do better. If people could just get their papers they wouldn't be seen as criminals.

KM: She has a Mexican flag and an American flag and hands grasping.

MG: The hand shake represents the two nations are united and that they get along really well.

KM: I love the little Statue of Liberty. Is that fabric?

MG: Yes.

KM: I don't think I have ever seen the Statue of Liberty fabric, so that was kind of cool. So you just finished this quilt?

MG: I made not so much to sell but it is more to show people, to inspire people, to let people know how the Mexicans feel and how they want to be. They want to have peace and they want to get along.

KM: How many quilts have you made?

MG: Four.

KM: What place is this in the four?

MG: The first one I made was a little piece, when we hardly knew how to sew and it is a little piece about my papa's ranch in Mexico, because we came from Mexico. It was my first one. When we first started, we did not know how to put the fabric on, but it turned out really pretty.

KM: What did she do with that quilt?

MG: In my house.

KM: In your house, okay, and the next one? We start thinking about it and we realize we have done five. [KM responding to the conversation in Spanish between Molly Johnson Martinez, the translator and MG.]

MG: Really pretty.

KM: Where is that one?

MG: I work at a winery and I actually did a quilt of the winery and they bought it.

KM: That is very good. So you made a quilt. Does it hang at the winery?

MG: Yes.

KM: So people see it.

MG: They have it in their house. The tourist come to this little house, so it is very special.

KM: Is this typical of your style of work? If you put all your work together would people be able to say?

MG: This is the first time I really quilted the heck out of it.

KM: So you did a lot of machine quilting on this, all the way around. So this is the first time you did a lot of machine quilting? Did you like doing this?

MG: Ah, ha.

KM: Are you going to do more? Next piece, are you going to do more quilting on the next piece?

MG: Yes. In my angel I started doing a little bit of inside quilting.

MJM: Do you want to see the angel?

KM: Yes. I didn't realize it was underneath hiding. Very nice. Tell me about this quilt. Is you're your newest work?

MG: No. The bottom one.

KM: When was this one done?

MG: Last year.

KM: Last year. Tell me about this quilt.

MG: It is the angel of the immigrants. An angel is standing on a rock. She is looking into the horizon. She is imaging how many people come here to the United States with the hope of having an American dream. They are going to get here and they have a great dream of having the papers and having a great life here. So they stay here, but they are kind of stuck here because they can't reach their dreams because they want to be citizens and they can't come and go.

KM: How did you decide how to quilt this?

MG: I just started going with the machine and moving it and it gave me ideas.

KM: I like the reflection. Very nice. What do you do with this quilt?

MG: This is more for the Mexican people than the people here because this one talks about leaving your beautiful land for this place and it is hard here. So it is like reflect before you come here.

KM: The binding with color. Very nice. What do you like about quilting?

MG: I love it because it lets me forget what is going on, I just get inspired and absorbed in it.

KM: How long have you been with the group?

MG: Since it started.

KM: Since it started. What do you like about the group?

MG: We are friends and we help each other out. There is no envy, we contribute ideas, like if I'm stuck on a place, I can bring it in and they help me.

KM: How does your family feel about your quilting? How has it impacted your family?

MG: More than anyone my husband helps me. He gives me ideas for the quilt and also for the stories, when I write the stories.

KM: Do you like writing the stories?

MG: Yes.

KM: Not everybody has. [laughs.] I think the stories are very, very important. That is why I do this project. Your group is always way ahead because you have already started to collect those stories. A lot of people have to think about them.

MJM: She has another one too, it is called "The Birth of Jesus" and it just sold in Long Beach.

KM: How do you like selling your work?

MG: First I like it, that the people like my work it is great.

KM: It makes you feel good?

MG: Yes. It is like a confirmation that people like it, and a lot of people really want to buy this piece, nobody has bought it yet but there has been a lot of interest in it.

KM: Selling takes time, to the right person. Do you have a sewing machine at home?

MG: Yes.

KM: Where do you sew, where in your house?

MG: On the kitchen table.

KM: I used to sew on the kitchen table. The only problem with sewing on the kitchen table is that you have to clear everything off in order to eat. [laughs.]

MG: [laughs.] It gets pretty messy, the threads fall all over the place.

KM: My son had a quilt at his--when he went away to college, and it had a pink thread that was on the quilt, so he picked up and he goes, oh this is just my mother. [laughs.] There is thread everywhere. What do you think makes a quilt powerful?

MG: Identify something in it gives a powerful message, not just put stuff around but have an idea, a clear idea to transmit.

KM: I think the quilts that the women are making, most of them are very powerful. Where do you see your quilting going? What other ideas do you have?

MG: With time they get better and better. The guy that I gave the Virgin quilt to, I went to where he works. It is really pretty. There is a building. Then there is a pond and a bunch of apple trees, so I want to go up there and take a photo of that.

MJM: I asked her what the inspiration was.

MG: I really like it. It is very beautiful. I want to do the Great Wall. I want to do a comparison of the Great Wall and the border wall they are building.

KM: Robin Williams did this in his routine, the comedy routine. So comparison between the Great China Wall and the border wall they are building. That should be interesting. I will have to tell you what Robin Williams said after the interview. [laughs.] Let's talk more about the group. How do you see the group evolving, what do you see happening with the group the women that come together?

MG: They could come more to work.

KM: Do you consider yourself an artist?

MG: Not like an artist, like a human being that expresses her ideas and feelings.

KM: I think all human beings have that quality to them.

MG: Not in public, but in my house I am an artist. [laughs.]

KM: That's good. Do you have children?

MG: Yes.

KM: What do your children think of your quilts?

MG: They say how pretty that I made this Virgin. They didn't like the Statue of Liberty, they wanted her to be stronger.

KM: They wanted the Statue of Liberty to be stronger?

MG: They thought that you couldn't really see it.

KM: Oh too small.

MG: It was not obvious. Make it bigger so you can distinguish it.

KM: Is there any part of quiltmaking that you don't like?

MG: No

KM: What did your quilt sell for?

MG: Three hundred, two hundred. If we put high prices people can't pay. So an accessible price for people.

KM: Have you gone to exhibitions?

MG: Yes.

KM: Talk about that.

MG: I went to Mendocino. I went to Lauren's. They got emotional in seeing the quilts. Someone says, 'Whose is this?' And I said, 'It was mine.' They say, 'Oh beautiful.'

KM: It makes you feel good.

MG: Yes.

KM: How many hours a week do you work on quilts?

MG: Just at night. Hours at night. I come to school and I work in the daytime.

KM: About everyday?

MG: No. I work for a little bit, little bit and when I'm almost done. I go crazy and keeps working, get obsessed.

KM: That is part of the program. I think we are all a little obsessive or we wouldn't be drawn. [laughs.] What advice would you give somebody starting out making quilts?

MG: It is a way to have fun, it can sell and it motivates you. Kind of lets you see how people are, like if they have a lot of ideas. If they don't it is empty it is just stuff that got stuck together.

KM: What are your favorite techniques? Some people like to piece, some people like the machine quilting.

MJM: We don't talk much about technique.

MG: The zigzag.

KM: She did know. A lot of people don't like zigzagging.

MG: All of my quilts have zigzag on them.

KM: See we found out something.

MG: Everybody has their ideas and techniques.

KM: Everybody has favorite things. What are your favorite materials? I notice that this one has a lot of velvet in it.

MG: These are really hard to sew.

KM: I know, that is why I was asking that question, because velvet is tough.

MG: Batiks.

KM: I agree, except if you were doing hand work, batiks are very difficult because the thread count is so intense. For machine it is fabulous. Very nice.

MG: Thank you for the program and I want to thank you the original teacher [Susan Kerr.] who helped me learn how to sew and thank you to Molly and Deanna [Apfel.] and Lee [Serrie.] that are helping us and continue to help us and thanks to you for coming and giving us more publicity.

KM: You are more than welcome. It is kind of interesting how that all worked out. I heard about you two years ago when it began. Then the money came from a foundation. I think a lot of people will be interested in this.

MG: Thank you.

KM: Are we done? Okay I just need to do the closing. I want to thank you for taking your time to do this with me and we are going to conclude our interview at 9:30.


“Marlene Gaxiola,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,