By Tracy Middleton, Special to the Independent
Nancy Gasparotti, a Laguna resident and retired software engineer, conveys the quiet, almost shy, definitely unassuming demeanor of a highly cerebral individual. But beneath that quiet exterior bubbles a volcano of wild creativity. Executed with a combination of methodical planning and audacious recklessness, her exhibition worthy quilts blend M.C. Escher with Andy Warhol in a mash-up of folk art and pop art.
About a decade ago while still working in her technical field, Gasparotti joined a craft group at UC Irvine seeking a hobby. Although she hadn’t made a quilt before, she knew how to sew, so when the group proposed making a quilt to be auctioned off in a fundraiser for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk, she was willing to try her hand. It was the beginning of a creative journey resulting in over 90 quilts donated to the UCI Cancer Center. Also, she makes show-quality quilts, two having been displayed at the recent “FantaSea of Quilts” exhibition at Aliso Viejo’s Soka University in June. Then there are play blankets for babies, throws and wall-hangings, often given as gifts.
Gasparotti has accumulated a stunning collection of books and fabrics, which she stores in her studio, adjoining the laundry room in her home high above Woods Cove. Each cupboard features hundreds of neatly folded, color-coordinated pieces of fabric that ultimately form her wild and compelling creations. Gasparotti describes her journey: “I took two or three classes, read lots of books, especially those by Freddy Moran and Gwen Marston, and I just tried things out. I ignore the ‘quilt police’ who obsess about perfect points connecting to form perfect corners and the ‘tool junkies’ whose gadgets can become a distraction from the creative process.” Gasparotti believes rules “provide structure for those who need it” but she herself is a maverick, finding improvisation to be a great liberator, even when she’s working with traditional block patterns such as Log Cabin, Broken Dishes or Flying Geese. Her manner of arranging bold black and white prints with equally bold, mind-bending florals, dots and stripes — an inexplicable alchemy of visual delights can only be described as painterly.
And yes, her works are titled and signed. “Earth and Cyberspace” and “Let’s Have a Garden Party” are just a few of the compelling titles. To plan a work, she uses a design wall upon which she arranges patterns and colors to see what sings. Her current project brashly combines colors and patterns.
Though the term “quilt” applies to the finished coverlet, it also refers to the pattern of stitching that attaches the patchwork top to the filler (called batting) in the middle and the back. Quilting adds a tactile, sculptural element to the “painting” that arouses a yearning to touch and snuggle. It was once done by hand with carefully concealed knots; in the 19th century, women often gathered to do this laborious final step in what was called a “quilting bee.” Many traditionalists continue to employ the historic technique, but Gasparotti uses her domestic sewing machine to stitch the layers together. Another option is to “quilt by check,” paying a professional with an industrial long-armed machine to stitch patterned whorls and swirls in her carefully assembled design. Even with modern shortcuts that machines and precision cutters provide, quilting is a time-consuming process, both art and craft. It takes about 20 hours to make a lap-sized charity quilt; a queen-sized one may take six months.
The quilting bee may have vanished with the frontier, but quilters always find one another. Gasparotti belongs to three Orange County guilds. Beach Cities Quilters, Surfside Quilters and the Orange County Modern Quilt Guild provide quilters of all skill levels and backgrounds a social and technical support system. With or without support, Gasparotti, thrives in the realm of the modern crazy quilt.