Joanne Gasperik




Joanne Gasperik


Gasperik discusses her grandmother's quilt, as well as the life story of her grandmother who came to the United States as a Hungarian immigrant. Gasperik offers advice and suggestions to those who wish to pursue quilting or look for inspiration in designing. She also considers the importance of quilting to American history in general, and women's history in particular.




Quilts--United States--History--20th century.


Joanne Gasperik


Karen Alexander

Interview sponsor

Emily Klainberg


Rockford, Illinois


Karen Alexander (KA): This is Karen Alexander. Today is October 4, 2002. It is 1:45 and I am conducting an interview with Joanne Gasperik for the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project in Rockford, Illinois at the American Quilt Study Group annual meeting. Joanne's identification number is AQSG-005.

[tape shuts off and then is turned on again.]

KA: Tell me about the quilt you brought today: who made it, and origin or age and describe it for us.

Joanne Gasperik (JG): My grandmother, Mary Gasperik, was a blue-ribbon quilter. She made over ninety quilts in her lifetime and this is one of them. It's one in a series of three that she made around 1944. The name of the quilt is called Burgundy Leaf and Vine. It was given to me as a gift from one of my cousins, ultimately as a wedding present. So I've had it now for a few years. The other two quilts are with different colors. This is burgundy and pink on white background. There's--some of the most intensive quilting of my grandmother's is in this quilt; as small as fourteen stitches an inch. There's a center quilted medallion of a basket. A basket filled with fruit and flowers. At the top is an appliquéd laurel wreath, probably because of the war years, thinking of victory.

KA: And what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

JG: Well, it was a quilt that my grandmother had made. She was really the person to inspire me to quilt. I saw three of her quilts in photographs when I was eleven years old. Because-- our families were separated because of divorce, so I didn't know her very well. I last saw her when I was three years old. But when I saw the photographs, and one in particular of a quilt that she had made that is everybody's favorite quilt, I thought to myself as an eleven year old, 'That's nice. One of these days I'd like to do that too.' Because of remembering that photograph, I started quilting about 1991.

KA: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

JG: Well even though there are sixty-seven quilts left in the family of my grandmother, I only have three. This one was given to me, like I said earlier, as a wedding present from one of my cousins. And it is a beautiful quilt. It seems to be a timeless quilt, as far as the

colors are concerned. Nobody might guess that it's sixty years old. So it was--it has meaning to me because of the connection to the quilter.

KA: And how do you use this quilt in your home?

JG: I don't use it. It's in a darkened room on a bed with other quilts that I've made. So it doesn't get used; it doesn't get daylight. But occasionally there are bed-turnings--quilt-turnings in my house, so we flip across the bed and this one gets shown.

KA: Do you have any special plans for the future use of this quilt?

JG: As a family unit we're discussing the possibilities of donating all of the remaining quilts to anyone willing to take the entire collection. So at that point in time it would go to a foundation, a university, a collection, a museum. In the meantime it will stay in my house as a very cherished memory.

KA: Tell me about your interest in quilting. When did you start quilting?

JG: I started quilting about 1990-1991. We ran out of things to do on the farm and I suddenly had time and I took my first quilting class. It was with Trudy Hughes, nearby where I live. She educated me in everything about quilting, including I can draft my own quilts now if I wanted to design them. So I became as passionate about quilting as my grandmother apparently was in her time. We both seem to have started around the same age. I was about forty-two; she was about forty-three when she started quilting. So there's always a bond, even across the generations. I've been able to restore one of her quilts and many thoughts go through your head at that point, too. Like, even not knowing her--I last saw her when I was three years old--I know some of the stories from my cousins. But I know that she was passionate about quilting. When she appliquéd, she could put a project down, but when she quilted, she quilted on a whole frame: C-clamps, two-by-fours. She would quilt as much as sixteen hours at a time. I'm not that fanatical, but I have quilted for eight and ten hours straight. [laughs.] But I enjoy every aspect of quilting. When I do machine quilting, I'm passionate about that; when I hand appliqué, I adore that. I make very fine stitches. My hand quilting is getting better. My machine quilting isn't all that bad. [laughs.]

KA: So what is your first quilt memory?

JG: My first quilt memory is seeing those photographs of the three quilts in the photo album. Even though I had a baby quilt, I never knew I had it until many years after that. So my first quilt experience really was when I took my first class. But I always enjoyed needlework. My education was in Germany and I learned all aspects of needlework from the time I was about eleven years old. I knit, I crocheted, I dipped candles, I wove baskets and so I've enjoyed every aspect of working with my hands. But quilting is my final passion. [loud metallic noises in background.]

KA: So was your grandmother born in Germany or was she--

JG: No, not at all. I lived with my German grandmother, my mother's mother. But my

quilting grandmother was born in Hungary in 1888. She came to America at sixteen. She was from a very large family. Her older sister was here already; younger siblings followed later. Her mother followed after that. She met her Hungarian born husband in Chicago

and she lived all of her life in Chicago on the South Side where she was a quilter.

KA: Are there any quilters among your family of friends?

JG: No, I'm – out of ten grandchildren, I'm the only quilter. I have cousins who are very interested in maintaining the quilts and preserving the quilts. [loud metallic noises in background continue.] One does quilt occasionally; the other visits every quilt show she can. But actively as a quilter, I'm the only one in the family. Which is why one of the quilting projects came to me--namely when my cousin's dog ate one of my grandmother's quilts. I volunteered to do the restoration. It was a successful restoration, under the guidance of Linda Honsberger, who's become a friend since. So the quilting aspect, the active part is just up to me, even though there's interest among--all of our family are interested. In '92, two of my cousins organized a one-woman quilt show with my grandmother's quilts. People with names like Sandy Fox and Roderick Kiracofe, Barbara Brackman and Merikay Waldvogel all know my grandmother's quilts. As a result of that, a spin-off of that, one of my grandmother's quilts, one of her early quilts, traveled in the quilt show for the Century of Progress quilt show. And her quilt is also published in the book. [Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World's Fair.] But back then, in '92, they were able to bring all of the remaining quilts in the family together to the location, to Pleasanton, California. The quilt guild in Livermore organized this quilt show. All of the quilts were photographed in full and in detail and in an extremely generous gesture those two cousins of mine made a photograph album and a complete slide presentation as a gift to all ten of the grandchildren. So one of my greatest treasures, even though I don't personally own a lot of the quilts, I have the photo album and I have the slides and therefore I consider all of my grandmother's quilts to be mine.

KA: What was her name?

JG: Mary Gasperik. She was a quilter--she belonged to the Tuley Park Quilters, on the South Side of Chicago. Bertha Stenge and her were adversaries, if you will. They knew each other, but my grandmother had great language limitations. She spoke Hungarian exclusively. As a result, all of her children learned Hungarian and she didn't speak much English at all. So she wasn't able to present herself and to market herself to the Art Institute of Chicago as Bertha Stenge did. But we've seen some of Bertha Stenge's quilts and as a family we're prejudiced and we find our grandmother's quilts are much more ornate. Bertha Stenge did superb trapunto work but my grandmother was a needleworker and seamstress by profession and all of her quilts are extensively quilted and extensively embroidered. So most of them have elaborate embroidery and embroidery details on them so that makes us prejudiced.

KA: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time yourself?

JG: No, I haven't. I've had a very blessed life. Even though there was one traumatic time in my life, I did that without quilting.

KA: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

JG: I am passionate about every aspect. Whatever I'm working on, that's what my favorite part of quilting is, whether it's hand appliqué, machine piecing, machine quilting, hand quilting--I love it all. I finish a quilt as soon as I can, right after I've started it. I don't have a collection of quilt tops; I do finish them and I enjoy every aspect. I even enjoy putting the binding on, even if it takes twenty hours for a king-sized quilt.

KA: So what aspects of quilting do you not enjoy, perhaps?

JG: There are none, there are none. When I sandwich a quilt the biggest job is for me to remove the cat.

KA: What do you think makes a quilt great?

JG: I'm a Capricorn, and part German, part Hungarian, so I'm detail minded. I think the technical aspect is very important. Personally, I find it very important. I try to treat each aspect of the quilt with great detail. So I think every part of the quilt is important. I know visually when a quilt judge judges a quilt they look at the visual, they look at the technical. I think all aspects make a great quilt.

KA: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JG: Well, the design and the colors. The color makes the quilt. 'The Quilting makes the Quilt'. These are books that we've all read, or devoured more or less. I think it's the design-- every aspect of the quilt is important. The quilting, the color, the design. It makes us stop and if we're lucky enough to know the maker we can ask those questions.

KA: What has influenced the patterns you have chosen?

JG: I'm a very traditional quilter. I'm not an art--I can appreciate art quilts, but I don't find that they flow out of me. I enjoy the history part of it. I enjoy the old patterns. I enjoy the pieced quilts. I enjoy learning about their names and how they've traveled across the country. So I will probably always remain a traditional quilter, whether appliqué or piecing.

KA: What makes a great quilter?

JG: A great quilter. Passion. Passion. I try, when I go to quilt shows and talk to people and they say, 'Oh, I quilt but I don't show my quilts; I don't want to.' I find myself scolding them. I say, 'Quilt shows are about sharing and are about being inspired and inspiring others.' I think a great quilter will inspire others but she's always open to new ideas.

KA: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

JG: Well, I--my own experience is I took a lot of classes in my early years of quilting. I learned the aspects of designing a quilt: measuring, being accurate in measurements, being accurate in sewing. The color part, that you learn by going to quilt shows and looking at a quilt and analyzing it, why you like it. And trying to memorize, remember those qualities, those color combinations. Trying to take that home with you. And learn. I don't have any colors that are my favorite. I have truly tried to work in all colors and color combinations. I do remember with excitement when I tried my first brown and blue quilt. [laughs.] The colors are not anything that I have to use. I just try new colors and color combinations. It's important to grow, to try a variety of things and to keep at it and learn and read books and analyze the pictures in the quilt books that you're paging through. Ask yourself, 'Why do you like this? There is a reason. It is for the design; it is for the colors, it is for the combinations, it's for--the reason is for all the beautiful quilting details. What are your favorite quilting details? What are your favorite quilting patterns that you want to emulate? And we just learn that by going to quilt shows and reading books and studying quilts.

KA: Why is quilting important to your life?

JG: Oh, it completely fills--no, it doesn't. I'm a gardener and a quilter, so I have to separate daytime chores and nighttime chores. But it does. It fulfills a great--I'm passionate about it, and I just feed my passion. Because I love all aspects of quilting, I can do it all day long, I really could. I'm fortunate; my husband is not usually home during the day, so I have the whole day to myself. I don't have to stop for lunch. So I do it because I love quilting. And that's--I can't elaborate any more. I just love it.

KA: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

JG: I don't know that they really do. I'm a snowbird from Wisconsin; I go to Florida. I see a lot of pink and green and yellow in Florida, but I do have to say that doesn't reflect on my quilting. It doesn't reflect any region because my quilting reflects my personal interests which are the traditional quilts. So I don't particularly have an influence that comes from the outside, from a region or a color. I gather my inspiration sometimes on a day to day basis. I gather my inspirations because I enjoy challenge, a challenge quilt. I do enjoy exhibiting, going to the state fair, exhibiting my quilts there. So I'm inspired through competition and I'm inspired through, well, the challenges that come with it. The challenge through a guild, or by making miniatures for an auction for breast cancer. That's where I get my inspiration from.

KA: What do think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JG: Oh, they're very important. Historically we know they were important; they were utility quilts. Then we have the whole Baltimore Album era, which short as it is, they were not utility quilts. They were for admiration, for sharing friendships. Now I think we're back to that same thinking. We make quilts to give as gifts. We make quilts for the children in our lives. We don't make utility quilts, maybe only our first one when we had that really fat batting that we thought we could handle. [chuckles.] We make quilts to satisfy ourselves and to make other people happy with them.

KA: Have you made quilts for your family?

JG: Yes I have. I have. I've made a lot of gifts. In my very short Baltimore Album era I made blocks and those individual blocks were gifts. So I've given more than fifteen of those away. I just now made a reproduction of a quilt my grandmother made exactly sixty years ago. The two eldest grandchildren each received a Farmer in the Dell quilt from my grandmother. Their younger sister never did. The idea was hatched by my cousin to make this Farmer in the Dell child's quilt as a surprise to my other cousin, her younger sister. So that was a gift and I just sent it to her two weeks ago. She first heard about it at the end of June [2002.], even though I started work on it at the end of February [2002.]. The idea stemmed from about two years ago now. I've made a gift for my stepson and his wife. I've made a gift for my sister for an anniversary. My mother--of course, mothers are good for that, they get the first of everything--so they get--yes I've made a lot of quilts to give as gifts. I made--one of the most fun things I did: I have a school friend in Germany, and we would do favors for each other back and forth across the ocean. Many years ago she said, 'Oh, you could make a quilt for me. I love purple.' And I told her flat out, 'There's no way I'm going to make one for you,' because I knew what size bed she had. But I said, 'Well what color purple?' She said, 'All color purples.' I said, 'You're crazy. It's absolutely outrageous. I will never make a quilt for you.' Well, five years ago she did a favor for me and I was taking a--in combination with this thought, I was taking a class on the paper-pieced Mariner's Star. And it was in purples, I was going to try purples for a change. And the idea came to me that I would finish this as a king-sized quilt and I would make it for my girlfriend in Germany. I was very fortunate, it was juried to Paducah and on the provenance I could always tell when people were reading about my quilt because they started laughing. I had made it clear that I made this as a surprise for my girlfriend so that she would be indebted to me for life. So I made it for her. I went in '98, in June I was back in Heidelberg for a high school reunion. I'd just received a viewer's choice award from a guild show with this quilt, and I had a photo of myself. So I inscribed the back of the photograph, framed, that I had just received this award and this was the gift. And she thought the photograph was the gift and I said, 'No, the quilt in the photo is the gift,' and it blew her away. I have realized since then that something of this magnitude can really knock the wind out of a person. But she's ecstatic about it. She eventually got it about two months later after I showed it at the [Wisconsin.] State Fair and showed it at another guild show. She eventually got it. And it's a treasure for her. So I do have fun with my gifts. [laughs.] Not that I want glory, but I just thought it was so fun. Now she can be indebted to me for life, you know, I can ask a lot of favors of her. She can never turn me down. [laughs.]

KA: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history?

JG: Now in these last twenty-five years since the revival, we've been taught how important it is to document all of our quilts. Unfortunately, most of the women in the past who've made quilts were so modest. They didn't sign their name to it. We have little history. I think it's important now that we learn that history is important. We need to learn as much as we can about the quilter, which is why we're conducting interviews and we should interview all the important quilters in our lives: our grandmothers, our aunts, people who've inspired us. If we can't, at least we should tell their story third hand, if we can't get their voice on tape. But the history part is – we find now how important it was for the women, for themselves, for their accomplishments, for their family, to preserve their sanity. We admire how they quilted in a covered wagon crossing this huge continent three thousand miles at a time. You know, the Oregon Trail. All the quilts that were made on the prairie going across. So history and women and quilts--we have to concentrate more on. We have to learn as much as we can, and appreciate the incredible effort on their part and how easy we have it now. We don't have to go down to the creek to bring the water up. We don't have to take a rock and a scrubbing board. We can quilt while the washing machine is going. So we have to appreciate what they went through when they created these masterpieces--and they're all masterpieces. Even if they were loved to death, even if they have holes in them, even if we have to keep them held together with bridal illusion and tulle. History of women and quilts is so important.

KA: What ways do you think quilts can be used in our lives?

JG: Well, it's very clear a lot of women use them to gain comfort in their lives, if they've had stress, if they've had trauma. But we also express our joy. [loud metallic noises in the background.] If we have a garden, and we enjoy flowers, we put flowers in our quilts and we put birds in our quilts. So every aspect of our lives shows up in a quilt at different times. Some of us are lucky enough to have a teacher who says, sign your quilt, title your quilt, appliqué the title on the top of it. What does this mean? We put the things we love in our quilts. Like I said birds and flowers or things that we've accomplished. If we've planted thirty-five thousand trees in our lives we put a couple of tree on our quilts. So it can express every aspect, like cooking and gardening--we know that there are huge-sized vegetables on quilts. So it covers every aspect of our joys and of our sorrow. And it's important to use a quilt as that expression. And I don't think that any other art--we can't make a basket that expresses that. Well, we can knit a sweater that expresses shapes and things, but I think a quilt is the most versatile art object that we can express our thoughts in.

KA: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JG: Well it would be wonderful if all the important quilts could be preserved in one family, that those family quilts could be preserved. It would be wonderful if all the museums that we know would have drawers and the climate-controlled areas to preserve the quilts. In the meantime we have to educate those who do have quilts. Take them out of the plastic bags. Do not store them in cedar trunks unless they are away from the oils. Try to fold and refold them. If you keep quilts in the family, that is wonderful. Of course, families grow and then collections get disbursed. If there is a family unity, one person who can be the custodian, it's the best. Quilt museums are wonderful. Unfortunately it's also known some museums don't always share with the public. We are fortunate to have MAQS [Museum of the American Quilters Society.] in Paducah. They do an outstanding job of showing and rotating very valuable quilts. But the quilts in the families--I think we have to reach individuals--I don't know how we reach families who do not presently have quilters in their lives and mistakenly preserve quilts in the wrong environment. I don't know how we can reach them. Perhaps publicly, through newspapers, through magazines. But we just have to keep talking as quilters. We have to keep talking to people and explain what the best thing to do is with quilts. How best to preserve them. We have to talk to people and not just keep it to ourselves. Sharing. And quilters share. Our life is sharing. So we just have to talk and share and educate people as best we can.

KA: Have you found opportunities to do this in your life?

JG: Sometimes I have, yes. The magic word is 'I'm a quilter.' And that, in a crowd of strangers, opens up a lot of conversations. Inevitably, we'll hear about, 'Oh I have a quilt that my aunt made.' 'I have a quilt that my grandmother made. I stored such and such and I stored such and such. And that's your opportunity to say, 'You're doing the right thing.' Or, 'Oh please, as soon as you get home please take it out of that plastic bag. Store it in a pillow case. Store it in a white sheet. Take it out of that cedar box. This is the best way. Give me your name and address – I will send you a pamphlet where you can learn about preserving this.' Yes, I have done that. I have done that, and I've been fortunate to have many opportunities, whenever I can. Quilting--you open a subject for me I could talk forever.

KA: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

JG: They are in my guest bedroom, flat on a bed, in a darkened room. They are cherished. I have bed-turnings. When everybody knows that I'm a quilter, they ask to see the quilts. So they see my quilts, they see friends' quilts. I have purchased quilts at auctions for breast cancer research; the miniatures that we all share. We contribute to our various charities. I have purchased those quilts and I have a few family quilts. I have recently purchased a few quilts on Ebay; not always successfully. People who know I'm a quilter come to my house and ask to see the quilts, so in a sense I can share them. I've been asked to have a little trunk show in my guild. One of these days I will be brave enough to share more quilt knowledge. In the meantime I've been working on my--I'm working on my story.

KA: In what--I'm going to see what our closing here is. What--do you have any future dreams or plans for yourself in working with quilts?

JG: I plan to--I have to live to two hundred and fifty to make all the quilts that are in my head that I would like to make. Including replicating a quilt that I had received from my grandmother. When my grandmother passed away, she was very generous even though our families had separated. She indicated that each of my sisters--I have two sisters and I would each receive a quilt of her's. I was very fortunate to receive a quilt. Unfortunately it was in our farmhouse when our farmhouse burned to the ground. But I was lucky. In another twist, in the early years, about ten years ago, Quilts and Other Comforts published a pattern that was my quilt! It was my quilt. I was lucky that there are family photos where my quilt, as vague as it is, is on a clothesline. I can discern colors and the pattern. My grandmother never followed a pattern to the "T". She always changed it. Even if it was the direction of how the bouquets are dancing in the border. So my quilt was dated, quilted-dated, in the pillow top, "1939" and it was called "French Nosegays." I'd like to make that quilt. Of course, I allow other quilt projects to get in the way. But that's where I see my future, in making, replicating my quilt that was lost. And then just continue to inspire others at quilts shows. Inspire and be inspired.

KA: Well I'd like to thank you, Joanne, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 2:20, October 4th, 2002. And thank you very much.

JG: You're welcome. Thank you.

Interview Keyword

Joanne Gasperik
Mary Gasperik


“Joanne Gasperik,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,