Mary Gasperik's Masterpiece Quilts
As Mary Gasperik matured as a quiltmaker, her creativity with the tools, techniques and patterns of quiltmaking grew. These three quilts marry remarkable needlework expertise with fluid innovation in patterns, colors and arrangements to produce original masterpiece works.
Hungarian Harvest Festival
Road to Recovery
Colonial Quilting Bee
014 Hungarian Harvest Festival 1938-1940
This quilt, finished in time for the May 1940 Detroit News Quilt Show, is a family favorite. Gasperik began work on this project immediately after she returned home from the 5th Detroit News Quilt Show, held Oct. 7-9, 1938. The Oct. 22, 1938 Detroit News quilt column written by quilt club editor Edith B. Crumb featured a picture of a Hungarian peasant girl appliqué sample block which Gasperik sent to Detroit for Crumb to share with fellow members of the Friday afternoon Quilt Club Corner, who gathered weekly in the basement of The Detroit News radio broadcast building. At the 5th Detroit News Quilt Show Gasperik had won the $25 top prize for appliqué (News pattern) and she was no doubt eager to start a quilt entry for the next Detroit show, one which might win her the highest prize ($50) they offered, the Grand Prize. The exquisite embroidery skills so well displayed on this quilt reflect Mary Gasperik's Hungarian heritage applied to a new medium, the American quilt. As a young girl Mary was taught sewing and embroidery to help bring in family income. The intricate and colorful floral embroideries traditional to Hungary lend themselves especially well to appliqué, the quilt style Mary preferred. Salser believes Gasperik designed the centerpiece Hungarian couple herself, using book illustrations, by Kathleen Mann, of ethnic European costumes. The sample block sent to Edith Crumb shows a slightly different arm position for the peasant girls encircling the married couple in the finished quilt, suggesting that Gasperik made revisions to the pattern she was working from. One wonders if Gasperik's efforts may have been stimulated by a Hungarian member of The Detroit News Quilt Club Corner named Lena M. Seles (Mrs. Bernat). Seles wrote to Quilt Club Corner (August 17, 1935, p 10) "Dear Ms. Crumb. I have made a quilt according to my own ideas. There are applique designs of little girls in the center with tulips for a border and it needs only quilting. I have never done any of this before. I would like so much to enter it in the Quilt Show if it is possible..." The Oct. 1935 Detroit News quilt show was Gasperik's first. Perhaps she saw Seles' quilt there, and had the joy of meeting a fellow Hungarian quilter and sharing ideas, patterns and enthusiasm sparked by their shared ethnic heritage. After Gasperik's triumph at the Oct. 7-9, 1938 Detroit show, she went home and started making her Hungarian Peasant Girls quilt. She sent a sample block to The Quilt Club Corner. It is pictured and described in the Oct. 22, 1938 (p 11) Detroit News. Seles evidently responded to Gasperik's peasant girl block. On Dec. 10, 1938 (p 10) Edith Crumb wrote in her quilt column: "Mrs. Lena Seles brought an appliqued block of an Hungarian peasant boy to be used with the Hungarian girl peasant block which Mrs. Mary Gasperik of Chicago designed. Mrs. Bella Ware and Mrs. Seles have both copied the little girl and Mrs. Leontine Hardy is also going to make one like it." Like Gasperik's Colonial Quilting Bee quilt, her Hungarian Girls quilt is strongly connected with The Detroit News quilt club and shows. This exemplifies how the Detroit quilters and The Detroit News Quilt Shows helped Gasperik develop into a master quilter.
066 Road to Recovery 1939
Mary Gasperik's original design to commemorate the 1939 New York World's Fair was made for a quilt contest "Better Living in the World of Tomorrow." She did not win a prize, but it is considered one of her masterpiece quilts. Although she did not sign this quilt, she often said the seated woman appliquéd in the center of the quilt represents herself. The pattern source for two of the appliqué elements in this quilt, the pair of robins in the lower left and the brown wren at the right side of the tree on the right, have been identified. Gasperik traced them from illustrations by Fern Bisel Peat published in popular books about birds printed in the early 1930s. In copying the robins from a book, Gasperik not only traced the book illustration's outlines to create her appliqué pattern, but she also duplicated Peat's detail through elaborate embroidery.
034 Colonial Quilting Bee 1936-1940
Considered one of her masterpiece quilts, "Colonial Quilting Bee" is a prime example of Gasperik's fine embroidery and quilting skills. However, it is not an original design. Two of the appliqué designs for the seated quilters originated with the Detroit News Quilt Club, organized by Edith Crumb. Arranging the quilters around a central quilt frame was not Gasperik's idea either. Mrs. Arthur Miller of Detroit had made a similar quilt and Mary probably saw it on display in 1935, the first Detroit quilt show Mary attended. A November 1936 Detroit News quilt column indicates "Mrs. Arthur Miller has had a letter from Mrs. Mary Gasperick [sic], one of our Chicago members..." The Miller quilt reappeared at the May, 1940 Detroit Quilt show, where it won third prize to Gasperik's second prize award (for the quilt called Hungarian Girls). It is quite likely that Gasperik got patterns for making Colonial Quilting Bee from Miller.