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Mary Gasperik

Quiltmaker

  Chicago, Illinois, United States    

Susan Salser

Mary Gasperik made more than 80 quilts while living in Chicago at the height of the quilt revival of the 1930s and 40s.
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Mary's Hungarian Roots

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Mary’s father’s family is from Csanadelberti (1). Mary lived in Otelec/Otelek from age 4 to 16 and emigrated from there in December 1904 (2). Mary’s mother’s family is from Timisoara/Temesvar the nearest large town to Otelek. (3)
Map from the 1991 NY World Atlas.

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This is the 1859 certificate of marriage for the wedding of Mary’s mother’s parents, Joann (John, in English) Jascho (Jasso) and Elizabetha Adamovits. It is written in Szlavoan, an ancient liturgical language now used only in Serbian Orthodox church services.

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The church where Mary’s grandparents were married is St. George Serbian Orthodox Church is seen in the background of this photograph. Photograph by Linda MacLachlan 2013.

Mary came from a family skilled in needlework. The wedding of Mary’s maternal grandparents was recorded in St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, in the Fabric District of Temesvar, (now in Romania, then part of Hungary) then the location of the tailor’s guild. Mr. Jascho’s proud profession is given as “Master Tailor”, and Elizabeth’s as “seamstress”. Mary’s mother Vidoszava was born February 12, 1862 in Temesvar/Timisoara.

Mary’s father’s family is from Csanadelberti.
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Mary Gasperik’s birthplace, as it appeared in 2013, is still in Hungary.

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This is Szavata Nicsovics, Mary’s paternal grandmother.

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This is the Nicsovics home in Csanadelberti.

Mary’s mother Vidoszava/Victoria, married Stephen/Istvan Mihalovits. They lived in Csanadelberti when Mary was born in 1888. Mary. Mary was part of a large family (she was one of ten children, five died before reaching full adulthood.) which had fallen on hard times. Her father (Stephen/Istvan Mihalovits), had been a small landowner. He tried to increase his holdings by renting additional land and taking out loans he could not repay. Details of this gradual decline, dated from 1869 to 1878, are recorded in a ledger he kept (collection of Susan Salser). In the end he lost the land he started out with. In the words of his wife, as related to his youngest daughter Julia, who recorded a family genealogy, he “gambled it all away” and the family had to “live in great poverty”.

This forced the family to move, in 1892, to the rather remote village of Otelek (not far from Temesvar). In 1992 grand-daughter Susan Salser visited Otelek, now part of Romania, and found it remote and poor; possibly not much different from the village Mary left behind in December 1904. The oldest children being unmarried daughters in a now-poor family, it is not surprising that, when an older local man planning to emigrate to America asked for the hand of their eldest daughter, Anna, Stephen and Vidoszava Mihalovits accepted.
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Otelek is now part of Romania, where it is quite close to the border with Serbia. Photographs taken in Otelek by Mary’s granddaughter, Linda MacLachlan, in 2013.

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This is the main street of Otelek. Photographs taken in Otelek by Mary’s granddaughter, Linda MacLachlan, in 2013.

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Sisters Mary (b. 1888), Elizabeth (b. 1885) and Emelia (b.1889) Mihalovits in a studio photo taken in Temesvar, Hungary, prior to their immigration. The photograph is not dated, but presumed to have been taken some time between 1900 (when Mary would have been 11) and December 1904 (when Mary left Hungary at the age of 16, together with 19-year-old Elizabeth). This is the earliest photograph we have of Mary Mihalovits.

The Mihalovits Family Emigrates to America

The eldest Mihalovits sister, Anna (b. 1884) was the first in her family to emigrate. It is not known exactly when she left. According to Anna’s grandson Mark Kiss, Anna was married, in or near Otelek, to a somewhat older man named Janos Kiss (known as John Michael Kiss in America) with the understanding that the couple would move to America and sponsor the next-younger Mihalovits children. In the next Mihalovits emigration, sisters Mary and Elizabeth left Otelek on December 11, 1904, sailed aboard the Praetoria from Hamburg, and arrived on January 6, 1905 in New York. They are listed on the manifest as Erzebet Mihalovits age 19 and Mariska sister age 17, Serbians from Otelek. The “Destination” line on the ship manifest reads “RR to Sis John Kiss 184 Halstead in Chgo IL”, the sisters’ sponsor.

In the third Mihalovits emigration, Emelia Mihalovits left Otelek on August 22, 1906, arriving from the port of Hamburg aboard the S.S. Kaiserin Auguste Victoria September 8, 1906. She also proceeded directly to Chicago. According to the ship manifest, her ticket was paid by “b I l Johan Kiss, 106 Green St., Chicago”. Her occupation is listed as “farm helper” on the passenger list.

Emelia died of tuberculosis, after a 13-month hospitalization (presumably in Chicago) according to a family history compiled later in life by her sister Julia Mihalovits Bright. In 1908 Anna Kiss traveled back to Hungary for a visit, bringing her two sons, Joseph and John with her. They returned bringing with them Anna’s younger brother Elias Mihalovits, the fourth Mihalovits family migration. Julia (born Juliana) was the youngest Mihalovits sister. She emigrated from Otelek, along with her mother and two brothers, in the fifth Mihalovits emigration, in December 1913, sponsored by Stephen and Mary Gasperik.

In a Priscilla diary stamped 1923 Mary recorded this memory of her emigration.

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A page from Mary's Diary.

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A page from Mary's Diary.

The two pages, handwritten by Mary Gasperik, can be translated as follows:

Memory and Family Introduction
I am Istvanne Gasperik [Istvanne means ‘wife of Stephen’] whose maiden name is Mariska Mihalovits, the child of the late Istvan Mihalovits and Vidoszava Jasso, who is writing this booklet.

I came to America on January 6, 1905, and arrived in Chicago to my sister, Annuska. I traveled together with my sister, Erzsike [Elizabeth], who became very sick. 2 years after my arrival I got married, thank God, with good luck. It happened 17 years ago, and God always helped me, and I hope God will help me in the future as well. Amen.

I came here on a ship called Pretoria. Life aboard ship is so extremely boring that this boredom is sometimes killing me. The ship on which we began our journey was a huge one; and we travelled together with 25 different nationalities to America. Erszike was very sick on the ship; I was sick only for one day. We spent a week on Ellis Island and then they let us go further. When we arrived here [meaning Chicago, where she was to spend the rest of her life], nobody was waiting for us at the station. A little cart brought us to my sister. She was sick too; the day before, in the evening she gave birth to their first son, their child, Jozsi [this would be Joseph Kiss, Anna and John Kiss’s first born].”
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Ellis Island Passenger Record

Mary’s diary entry continues with this description of her first days in Chicago. The first task of two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, was to find employment.
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A page from Mary's Diary.

A translation of the journal entry reads: “On the third day I started working in a domestic job for a Russian-Jewish family. I got $2.50 for a week. I worked for them for 3 or 4 months, and then I went to a Hungarian-Jewish family, to Mrs. Reichel. I got $4 for a week. I worked there one and a half years, and I met Pista there.” [Pista is the diminutive form of Istvan or Stephen; she is referring to her future husband, Stephen Gasperik. Here, her narrative is somewhat selective. In the next passage she refers to “moving in with Pista’s parents” – an odd way of describing her own marriage, and then Mary continues with a rather detailed description of how the couple achieved independence. The implication is that this was a very trying process. Family legend is that relations between Mary and her in-laws was very strained, in fact broken, until the World’s Fair in Chicago of 1933, when visiting relatives required accommodation which led to a resumption of relations. It appears that Stephen’s parents did not approve of their son’s relationship with Mary.] The journal continues “Pista bought the dairy store from his father, and we moved there, to 6125 Ada Street. We lived there for 5 years. From there we went to Cottage Grove, to the house of Jozsi Gasperik [here she is referring not to her husband’s father Joseph Gasperik, but to her husband’s half-brother also named Joseph Gasperik]. We bought the store from them, and we lived there for 3 years. From there we moved, and we bought the store of W. Livyr, at 9307 Cottage Grove Avenue. That’s how we moved from place to place [here she uses a verb for moving which emphasizes the unpleasantness of having had to move over and over again].

Evidently Mary met her future husband while working for the Reichel family. Perhaps he made milk deliveries to the household. In some fashion, both Mihalovits sisters met the Gasperik brothers, Geza and Stephen (Pista). Elizabeth married Geza May 13, 1906.
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Wedding portrait of Elizabeth and Geza Gasperik, May 13, 1906.

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A postcard from Mary to her sister Anna, dated September 5, 1906. Mary was still-single and working as a nanny or housekeeper.

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Address side of the postcard.

In this ungrammatical (perhaps hastily written?) postcard Mary asks her sister Anna “How do you like the photograph? It is good, I think I will go home, to Chicago today. On Sunday we will visit you and be prepared to visit Ozci if you can. God bless you, we will talk more when I am with you. God bless you, your faithful sister Maris (Mary). “I would suppose that Mary’s employer of the time was vacationing at Fox Lake, outside Chicago, and that Mary accompanied the family. “Ozci” is a term which means “little brother”. By this, Mary seems to be referring to Stephen Gasperik, the little brother of Geza Gasperik (who was at this point Elizabeth Mihalovits’ husband, Mary’s brother-in-law). Mary was then only 18, and she was on her own in a new world. Both of her sisters were married, and she was a servant of some kind. This period must have been very stressful time.

Three family photographs are associated with the period in Chicago before Mary married Stephen Gasperik, when she was 18-years-old. Chicago’s Park District provided, in local parks, and apparently with official photographers, settings open to the public where immigrants could (I might say were encouraged to, as future American citizens) gather and socialize. These photographs were given to Susan Salser by Mary Bruland, Anna’s daughter.
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In the third row up from the bottom, Mary is the young woman standing at the right side of the center pole, with her hair in a long braid on her left shoulder, head tilted a bit to the right. Stephen Gasperik is not in this picture.

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Mary is on the left, with two unidentified friends. All three figures can be seen in the previous photo.

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Stephen Gasperik is on a bicycle at the far left. Mary Mihalovits is looking very saucy, hands on her hips, at the far right. The photo was given to Susan Salser by her cousin Mary Bruland.

This informal family photo, was probably taken between Elizabeth’s marriage to Geza Gasperik in May 1906 and Mary’s marriage to his younger brother Stephen in November 1906. We see Mary and Stephen together with other Mihalovits family members. They look quite happy and carefree. The identities of the other women and men is uncertain. Perhaps that is Elizabeth Mihalovits Gasperik standing in the center, wedding ring prominent on her left hand. Another, possible interpretation (given that the younger baby looks so nearly new-born) is that the woman standing in the center behind the two seated women holding babies is Anna Mihalovits Kiss and that the man seated at the right is John Kiss, Anna’s husband and the babies’ father. Their first son, Joe, was born January 5, 1905 (the day before Mary and Elizabeth arrived in Chicago) and their second son, John, was born March 27, 1906. The identities of the other persons in this photograph is not known. It seems to be a mixture of Mihalovits family and friends.

Mary wed Stephen Gasperik on November 6, 1906. On the marriage license, Stephen’s occupation is listed as “milk dealer”. The couple lived with Joseph and Elizabeth Gasperik, Stephen’s parents, at 5703 S. Halstead St., where Joseph ran his dairy. While living there, they has a son Stephen, born August 13, 1907 and a daughter Elsie born February of 1909. The 1910 census records the family in the Halstead neighborhood, and Stephen as a “milk dealer”. Stephen Gasperik 5706 S. Halstead as his address in a letter, handwritten in Hungarian, dated December 1911. By the time of the 1920 census Mary and Stephen and their 3 children were living independently (and, important to Mary, securely) on Cottage Grove and Stephen is listed as a “retail merchant” in a “grocery market”.
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The marriage license of Mary and Stephen Gasperik.

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Wedding portrait of Mary and Stephen Gasperik, November 15, 1906.

In the Priscilla diary Mary recorded important family dates: her husband’s birthday as October 26, 1882 in Nagyvarad in Bihar County; her birthday on January 25, 1888 in “Alberti” in Csanad Country; the births of their children Stephen (August 13, 1907 at 11PM); Elsie (February 3, 1909 at 8:30AM); Elmer (April 24, 1912 between 4 and 5PM); the birth (January 5, 1918) and death “after suffering a lot” (April 19, 1919 at 1AM) of Edward, their youngest child; the marriage of daughter Elsie to Maynard Krueger in 1934; and the births of the three Krueger girls: Karen, Linda and Susan. Susan’s birthday, June 10, 1940 was the last date recorded in the diary.
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A page from Mary's Diary.

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A page from Mary's Diary.

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A page from Mary's Diary.

Emelia Mihalovits’ departure in 1906, and Anna’s 1908 trip back home to introduce her two sons to their grandparents and bring brother Elias Mihalovits to Chicago, left behind in Otelek the youngest Mihalovits children and their parents. Mary’s father Istvan Mihalovits died there in Otelek in September of 1913. Later that year Mary and Stephen Gasperik sponsored the emigration to Chicago of his widow (Mary’s mother), Vidoszava/Victoria and her 3 remaining children (Sandor/Alex, Gyorgy/George, and Juliana/Julia).
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Franconia ship inspection cards, front.

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Franconia ship inspection cards, back.

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Cunard line letter dated November 25, 1913.

Their Franconia ship inspection cards, dated December 9, 1913, survive, as does a letter, dated November 25, 1913, from the Cunard line in the port of Fiume regarding their booked passage under names rendered in English both as Viktoriya Mihalovics and as Viktoriya Mihalovits. The Mihalovits family had finally left Otelek, and Hungary, behind.
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Stephen and Mary Gasperik family photo, Chicago ~1918. Collection of Susan Salser. Seated in the front is Mary’s son Elmer. Middle row, left to right; Mary holding Edward, Mary’s mother, Vidoszava Jascho; Mary’s daughter, Elsie; Charles Novak, Vidoszava’s husband; Mary’s son Steve; and Mary’s sister Julia/Julianna Mihalovits. Standing in the back, left to right, are Stephen Gasperik (Mary’s husband), and Mary’s brothers Elias and George Mihalovits.

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George and Helen Mihalovits’ wedding portrait, March 27, 1921. From left to right: Elmer Gasperik; Elias Mihalovits standing behind his wife Anna Nadasdy; Stephen Gasperik standing behind his wife Mary; Elsie Gasperik; Alex Mihalovits standing behind his sister Juliana Mihalovits; George Mihalovits standing behind his new wife, Helen Ravasz; and Stephen Gasperik.

Vidoszava/Victoria married Charles Novak, in Chicago in 1916. Vidoszava/Victoria’s daughter Juliana, in a family history recorded decades later, described Vidoszava as having been well educated. She could read and write in 3 languages (Hungarian, Serbian and German) and spoke 5 (including Slovak and Romanian). Juliana remarks that her mother tried hard to learn English and attended night school English classes in Burnside, the immigrant community on Chicago’s south side where they lived. Vidoszava/Victoria died February 3, 1921, in Chicago.

Unfortunately, her daughter Mary Gasperik made no such effort to learn languages. She had only 4 years of formal schooling (in Otelek). She never learned to speak or write English well. In fact, her Hungarian was not very good (in the sense of educated) but WAS very fluent. Granddaughter Susan remembers well how it sounded, building into crescendo after crescendo of what seemed to be complaints. It is fortunate for us that she was skilled and creative at expressing herself so positively with a needle and thread, as the Gasperik quilt collection so clearly demonstrates, because Gasperik’s ability to communicate with other quilters in her adopted homeland (in English) was severely limited! This limitation undoubtedly hampered her ability to present her quilts and participate (as well as compete) in the lively world of quilting in mid 20th century America in which she lived and worked.

Anna and her husband Janos/John Michael Kiss moved from Chicago to New Mexico, to homestead. Janos died in 1910 and is buried in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Anna’s youngest child Mary, was born after her husband’s death. Newly–widowed Anna temporarily placed her children in an orphanage, then moved to Los Angeles, California where she raised her four children, working as a cook for a wealthy family. Mary Gasperik gave one of her first quilts, a wedding quilt design dated 1933 on the front and 1936 on the back, to Anna for her daughter Mary. In 1972 Mary Bruland (married name) donated this quilt to the Los Angeles Museum of Art.
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Mary made this quilt for her niece as a Wedding Quilt. The niece donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Mary Discovers Quilting

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Stephen Gasperik Grocery & Market at 9314 Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago.

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As of 2008, the Gasperik store was still standing and is the home of the Good Temple M.B. Church. Photo by Merikay Waldvogel.

The south side neighborhood in Chicago where newly-wed Stephen and Mary Gasperik lived and worked, is called Burnside. It was home to a very large immigrant community, many of whom were fellow Hungarians. Pictured is the grocery store and family home of the Gasperiks. Stephen initially worked in the milk delivery business and later as a butcher and owner of this small neighborhood market at 9314 Cottage Grove Avenue. The family living quarters were both behind the store, on the ground level, and above the store, on the 2nd level. Mary helped in the store, until she discovered quilting.

In January 1933 Sears announced its national quilt contest at The Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Mary could see and read about the quilts made famous by the Sears contest. She already knew how to sew and how to embroider expertly, and thanks to her husband’s success, she now had money to purchase whatever threads, fabric, patterns, and magazines she wished. The 1930s saw a surge of quilting patterns and materials and some major quilt catalogs were distributed in Chicago. Commercial sources include (and which Salser believes her grandmother used) the Colonial Quilts catalog from H. Ver Mehren/Home Art Studios, of Des Moines Iowa (also printed and distributed in Chicago). The Chicago based Duncan Company manufactured a box of patterns called The Wonder Package (copyright 1933, Donald F. Duncan Inc.) which was promoted by The Detroit News. Mary used two Wonder Patterns to make the appliqued moons on Star Arcturus (quilt #048), and the leaping fish quilting on a 1957 quilt made for great-grandson Andrew Finn (quilt #058). Quilt patterns by "Nancy Cabot" appeared in her daily newspaper (the overall pattern for Star Arcturus, which was called “Century of Progress” in the Cabot column came from this Chicago source. Virginia Snow catalogs, which Mary collected, came from nearby Elgin, Illinois as did Quilts by Boag from The Boag Company in 1933. Mary made several quilts like those presented in the catalog Romance of the Village Quilts from the Mary E. McElwain quilt shop in Walworth, Wisconsin. Mary probably saw quilts made by fellow Chicagoans, including the famous Bertha Stenge. Most importantly, Mary had a very important resource just blocks from her home when she joined the Tuley Park Quilt Club. Sponsored by the Chicago Park District, it was under the direction of Virgie Stewart. Mary remained a member until moving in 1948. Happily for Mary Gasperik, she lived in the right place at the right time.
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Mary working on Hungarian Harvest Quilt, 18-14-25, c1938

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Mary working on Old-Time Nosegay, c1939.

Making quilts became Mary’s primary occupation and she probably completed most of her quilt tops while living above and behind the Stephen Gasperik Grocery & Market. Mary worked on her quilts in the downstairs room just behind the store. The room had no windows and was a dark, cluttered work-space filled with stacks of magazines, patterns, and fabric, her granddaughters remember. This is where she probably made most all of her quilt-tops, and the bulk of her finished. This new hobby appears to have consumed all of her available time and creative energy.

In 1935 Mary Gasperik first learned of the Detroit News quilt contest from an advertisement in a newspaper she picked up at a 1935 Chicago Cubs/Detroit Tigers World Series baseball game. She began submitting quilts to that contest, which opened up a friendship with Edith Crumb, a new community of quiltmakers, and a new audience of readers for her quilts. These quilts were published or mentioned in Crumb's column. Four Gasperik quilts and one appliqué block were made using patterns published by The Detroit News.

On St. Patrick’s Day of 1936 a disastrous flood wiped out nearly one-third of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. By the time the waters had receded on the evening of the second day, $50 million in damage had been inflicted, 25 people had been killed and 9000 were left homeless.  Mary Gasperik raffled her Dresden Plate quilt to help raise money for the victims. According to granddaughter Linda MacLachlan, her original intent was to send the quilt to Pennsylvania, but her new son-in-law, Maynard C. Krueger, an economist and instructor at the University of Chicago, persuaded her to raffle the quilt and contribute the money to the relief fund. It is quite logical that Gasperik chose to make this design, because she had seen Dresden Plate quilts in Detroit, when she attended her first Detroit News quilt show and contest in October 1935, where Dresden Plate was one of the most common designs on display and had been heavily promoted by the newspaper since its introduction in October 1931.  It was the most popular quilt pattern offered by The Detroit News, according to the News’ quilt club editor, Edith B. Crumb. Gasperik, however, did not use the Detroit News version of the pattern, she instead chose McCall #74 Dresden Plate pattern, or possibly a Dresden-style pattern from Home Arts Studio (another favorite Gasperik commercial pattern source of this early period) marketed as Friendship Circle.  It is not known what became of the raffled quilt photographed in the Gasperik store window.
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Mary's Dresden Plate in the window of the Gasperik Grocery Store.

In the late 1930s Mary’s skills were impressive. She was awarded ribbons and money for quilts at the Detroit News Quilt Shows and was working on quilts that are recognized today for their mastery. World War II spelled the end of the Detroit News Quilt Club Corner and the accompanying shows, so Mary turned her competitive energies to the Illinois State Fair where she won numerous ribbons. Mary competed in the Fair throughout from the 1940s – 1960s.

Mary's Family Encouraged Her Work

Throughout her career, Mary’s family recognized and supported her efforts. Mary’s daughter Elsie helped by drafting patterns and encouraging her mother to try original ideas. Elsie attended Chicago’s Crane Junior College where she won a scholarship in 1932 to examine the country of her immigrant parents. She met her Hungarian relatives and examined its folk arts, of which embroidery was a major component. There is a surviving Hungarian railroad ticket dated April 24, 1932 (Budapest to Sopron), and passenger records show that Elsie Gasperik returned to the United States August 26, 1932. Ten surviving issues of a beautiful Hungarian needlework magazine called Muscatli (Geranium, in English), dating from June 1932 to June 1934 both illustrate Hungarian needlework designs and demonstrate Elsie’s realization that such designs could be turned into quilt projects. Elsie encouraged her mother to develop new quilting skills and goals beyond the popular but formulaic commercial patterns being marketed.
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The cover of June 1934 Muscatli magazine.

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A page from Muscatli inspired Mary’s daughter Elsie to draw up a potential applique pattern.

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Elsie's sketch.

Stuck into the pages of Gasperik’s June 1932 issue of Muscatli magazine, Susan Salser found her mother Elsie’s attempt to transform an embroidery pattern into a possible applique design. Susan located the source of Elsie’s drawing in the January 1934 issue of Muscatli. There is no indication that Mary Gasperik tried to actually use her daughter’s quilt pattern idea.
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This exhibit tag accompanied Gasperik’s Four Little Pigs, quilt, at the Detroit News, quilt show. This tag records Elsie’s participation in the quilt design.

Elsie’s contributions were acknowledged by Edith Crumb, the Detroit News quilt club editor, wrote in a February 11, 1936 column that Mary’s daughter drew the pattern from which Gasperik make her Double Feather Star (a pattern she ending up using at least four times, #006, #045, #081) working from a photograph “in a book” (Marie Webster’s quilt classic, Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them) .
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February 11, 1936 Detroit News column.

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This family photograph of Gasperik’s three Krueger granddaughters wearing some of the pinafores Gasperik made for them. Susan, Karen and Linda (from left) taken in 1943 at 6630 University Ave. in Chicago, where the Maynard and Elsie Krueger family lived.

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Mary’s daughter Elsie drew the gingerbread fox Mary used to make an appliqué for a dress for Elsie’s daughter Susan Krueger is wearing. This circa 1945 family photo was taken during a summer visit to the Missouri farm belonging to Maynard Krueger’s parents. Sisters Linda and Karen are wearing other dresses made and appliqued by Mary Gasperik.

Elsie also provided drawings and suggestions for her mother to applique on clothing made for Elsie’s daughters and gifted her mother with the book Mary used to help design the centerpiece of her quilt called Hungarian Girls, a prizewinner at the last (May 1940) Detroit News quilt show.
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In the living quarters above the Gasperik grocery store, Mary and Stephen pose with Kathleen Mann’s Peasant Costume in Europe Book II . A portrait of their daughter Elsie sits at the right end of the fireplace mantle.

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This is not Gasperik’s own copy of the book but the Gasperik archive includes her copy inscribed “To Mother from Elsie Xmas 1943.

Elsie’s participation went beyond helping with the patterns. She did chores so Mary would have time to work on quilts. A letter from Mary's niece Vilma McClure to Susan Salser, dated Jan. 9, 1994 refers to the Gasperik Tree of Life quilts (#031, #065, #044, #082, and #083) that she calls "the family tree quilt": "About your mother. She helped design many of the quilts. I particularly remember the family tree quilt. I saw it in the making. I think your mother designed that one. Elsie was most pleased that her mother had such a passion for making quilts. Indeed, Aunt Mary didn't do anything else - literally! Your mother went to Hazelcrest and cleaned her mother's house and did her wash on a regular basis." Mary’s youngest son Elmer encouraged his mother’s quilt-making hobby by finding and bringing her books with illustrations she might find useful for planning quilts. It is quite possible that the biggest remaining unsolved mystery regarding Gasperik’s quilt pattern sources, (the origin of the seven Indians children’s quilts (18-14-13, 14, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70) came from one of Elmer’s gifts. He was also the family photographer and took pictures of Mary working on her quilts and documented her quilts through photography sessions on the family clothesline in the 1960s.
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Because of Elsie's involvement, each of her daughters wanted a Tree of Life Quilt. This one belongs to Linda.

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This Tree of Life belongs to Karen.

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Elsie gave Karen this Tree of Life, too. Karen traded it to Susan, so Susan could have one of her mother's favorite quilts, too.

Mary’s youngest son Elmer encouraged his mother’s quilt-making hobby by finding and bringing her books with illustrations she might find useful for planning quilts. It is quite possible that the biggest remaining unsolved mystery regarding Gasperik’s quilt pattern sources, (the origin of the seven Indians children’s quilts (18-14-13, 14, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70) came from one of Elmer’s gifts. He was also the family photographer and took pictures of Mary working on her quilts and documented her quilts through photography sessions on the family clothesline in the 1960s. Elmer’s wife Doris was crucially helpful in encouraging her mother-in-law to exhibit quilts at the Illinois State Fair from 1946-1966. With Doris’ help, Mary won many prizes. The family is in possession of 42 quilt ribbons from the Illinois State Fair.
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In this East Hazelcrest family photo, Mary and Stephen pose with daughter-in-law Doris (wife of son Elmer) and granddaughter Kathy. Stephen died in 1962, not long after this photo was taken. Mary died in 1969.

Not Just Quilts Mary’s needlework skills were employed to make clothes and household items as well as quilts.
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Susan Krueger and her grandmother on the front porch of Susan’s home at 6630 University Avenue, Chicago, Ill, circa 1944-45.

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The Krueger sisters in matching pinafores made by their grandmother.

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Some of the dresses that Gasperik appliqued for her granddaughters survive.

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More dresses made by Mary for her grandchildren.

Embroidery, crochet, and cut-work were needlework hobbies of that Mary engaged in simultaneously with quilting and appliqué.
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“Kitchen cloths”, made by Mary. They were used to protect kitchen surfaces from splashes and stains.

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At a Hungarian Festival held outside the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in 2013, granddaughter Linda MacLachlan saw modern Hungarian needlework of a similar style on display.

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Stephen and Mary Gasperik pose with son Elmer and his wife Doris, probably at the home of Mary’s brother George in 1944. On the wall behind them hangs an applique Mary made while working on designing a centerpiece for the ‘Hungarian Girls’ quilt. She made at least 3 versions of that Hungarian couple.

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Mary is standing behind her brother George and his wife Helen. Mary gave one of her Hungarian couple centerpiece experiments to them.

Mary’s Hazelcrest Years
In 1948 Stephen suffered several strokes and had to retire. The couple moved to 1411 W. 174th St., East Hazelcrest (the house at that address is long gone) where Mary was known for her flower garden. Gasperik’s quilts reflect her love of flowers and gardens – she chose quilt designs including applique floral patterns and often made her flowers more numerous and more complicated than commercial or popular designs proposed.
 
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1957, Mary and Stephen Gasperik enjoyed their garden when they moved from Chicago’s south side to East Hazelcrest, Illinois.

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Mary and Stephen in their garden c1960.

Mary continued making and entering quilts after 1948. She wanted and deserved recognition for her quilts, although her work was hardly known in the quilt world in her lifetime, except for the limited circle of quilters participating in the Tuley Park quilt club and Detroit News quilt shows, and visitors to Illinois State Fairs in Springfield, Illinois. Success in publicized national contests eluded her. It seems she did not know how to succeed at competing, how to maneuver in that world. Her quilts spoke in a way that she herself could not. Alternatively, she was simply unlucky with regard to quilt contests.

Mary’s granddaughter Susan Sasler remembers that Mary did not quilt much after her husband died in 1962. Her last known quilt was completed in April of 1967 for her great-granddaughter Cathy Salser. In 1967 she was dealing with painful arthritis and ill health which made it impossible for her to continue her needlework.

At the time of her death in 1969 left an astonishing collection of quilts. Family members including daughter Elsie and daughter-in-law Doris divided up the family quilts. After Elsie’s death and Doris’ deaths, the quilts were passed on to grandchildren.
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Family tree taken from the 1992 Exhibit catalog.

In 1991 Mary Gasperik’s granddaughter Karen Finn began planning and helping to organize a show of Mary Gasperik quilts. The show was organized by Karen’s local quilt guild, the Amador Valley Quilters and sponsored by the Livermore Area Recreation & Park District, and held at the Ravenswood Historic Site, Livermore, California, on March 14-15, 1992.

The show inspired granddaughter grand-daughter Susan Salser to begin researching her grandmother’s quilts, trying to piece together the bits of information which the family already had (in scattered places), figuring out what was missing and then looking to find the missing information from outside sources. This is her attempt to bring together in one place personal family records and photos which illuminate Mary Gasperik’s personal story. Salser has been especially focused, for two decades, on trying to figure out how her grandmother worked, which published materials she used and how she combined and altered them.

Susan’s ongoing research has been fruitful and interesting and has provided a much fuller view of her grandmother’s life. Susan learned that Mary’s early years were difficult. Her family went from prosperity to poverty culminating when she immigrated to America. The trauma of losing siblings and her youngest child, goes a long way in explaining family memories of Mary being rather volatile, forceful and difficult. Her difficulty communicating in English compounded her struggles. But Mary found purpose and joy in creating clothing, household items, and quilts for her family. It allowed her to connect with her homeland via traditional needle skills learned as a young girl and encouraged her to succeed in her new home via a new outlet for those superior skills in quiltmaking. Susan learned just how accomplished and respected Mary’s quiltmaking skills were. Susan’s extensive research culminated in Mary Gasperik’s induction into the Quilters Hall of Fame in 2021.

Read How I Researched the Mary Gasperik Collection by Susan Salser, here.
Notes on The Detroit News Quilt Club columns are here.

Was the maker a woman, man or a group?

Female

When was the quiltmaker born?

1888

Ethnic background/tribal affiliation:

Hungarian

Quiltmaker's maiden name:

Mihalovits

Spouse's/Spouses' name(s):

Gasperik, Stephen

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