‘Survivors 2003’ by Aniko Feher


As I’ve blathered on about before, I have a quilt going to the Pick Museum of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University. With my quilt are quite a few amazing ones that really stand out! Today I’m showing off Aniko Feher’s quilt, titled ‘Survivors 2003, and after I even got to ask her a couple of questions! Follow the jump!

Eric The Quilter: What got you into quilting?

Aniko: Quilting was not familiar to me in Hungary. Once I was in the US I took some art classes, but once again, quilting was not an art subject that was offered.

The first time I saw a quilt it was at the local summer art fare in 1992. I happened to come upon a quilt shop booth. They had some of their samples for sale. I fell in love with the look and wanted to learn how to do it. They told me where their store was and I showed up Monday morning. I asked them where I can lean to quilt and I was told that they offered classes. I gave them my name and phone number so they could let me know when the quilting classes start but they never called me.

Patience is a virtue but it is not one of my virtues. Since I already knew how to use a sewing machine and I was anxious to get started and decided to teach myself quilting. I got myself a book called Quilts, Quilts, Quilts and I bought lots of different fabrics, mostly from Joann Fabrics. The problem was that the book did not established simple basic rules like the 1/4″ seam allowance and 100% cotton only. I bought linens and cottons and rayon and God knows what else. I paid no attention to fiber contents I just wanted those pretty colors.

My first attempts at quilting were traditional quilts from the book. I didn’t bother to carefully read the basic instructions either. I just skimmed through the directions and went straight to the pictures. I picked a quilt I liked and cut the fabric and sewed the pieces together as best I could. I became a closet quilter. Actually more like a basement quilter. I worked down in my basement all by myself, never knowing that there are quilt guilds out there. Because I did not know basic rules I was not very good at doing traditional patterns.

This was frustrating, but my true interest in quilting was to make picture quilts. After a few years I came upon another quilt book that had raw edge appliques in it and that just blew my mind. I was suddenly liberated to do whatever I wanted in my quilts. I started experimenting with some of my old pictures. My first figurative quilt that was called “Goldie”. I made a tracing of a photo and a pattern based on the enlarged tracing. At this stage I got scarred and put the pattern and the whole idea aside. It took me 3 years to dare to put together the first quilt with mostly raw edge applique.

A few years later I became aware of larger quilt shows. By this time I had a few quilts so I entered them in quilt shows.

At these quilt shows I realized there are guilds out there and I finally joined one.

As far as quilting goes I did everything backwards…..

ETQ: Can you tell us about your ‘Surviors 2003’ quilt?

Aniko: I am originally from Hungary, I came to the US in 1971 when I was 17 years old. This was during the Communist era and going for a visit to the US and not returning to Hungary meant that I possibly would not see my family for a long, long time if ever. Before leaving my mom gave me a tiny photo (2.5×3.5) of herself and other survivors that was taken somewhere on the road between Bergen-Belsen and Budapest as they were making their way home after liberation. This was the only family heirloom given to me when I came to the US. See attached photo.

Around 2000 I started making picture quilts. It was always on the back of my mind to make a memorial quilt dedicated to my mother, who was a Holocaust survivor. This is the story behind the quilt.

In 1945 she was liberated in Bergen-Belsen. After liberation Bergen-Belsen became a DP camp. It took her a while to recuperate from starvation. Once she was physically stronger she wanted to return home and find her family. Survivors were promised transportation home but after many months no transportation was provided. My mother with 4 other survivors from Budapest decided to go home on their own. Most of their journey was on foot. Somewhere on that journey a tiny group photo was taken of the 5 survivors. In the group photo my mother is the second from the left, the large superimposed portrait is also that of my mother when she was old and fragile, before she passed away.


Going back to the picture, I don’t recall the names of the other people on the photo. My mother and they parted ways when they got into Budapest. She said the two girls on the right were sisters and the shorter one was only 15 years old. The woman on the left was a married woman who had a little girl left behind in the Budapest Ghetto. All through that long and hard journey she was carrying a doll for her child as a gift. On the last leg of the journey they were traveling on a crowded train. They all fell asleep on the train and while they slept someone stole the doll. When she woke up this woman kept crying, she was inconsolable, how can she come home without a gift for her daughter? Of course what she really cried about was that she didn’t even know if her child was still alive.

My mother never wanted to talk about her war time experiences, but stories bubbled to the surface in the most unexpected ways. For example she never allowed me to wear anything yellow and never explained why. Later I realized that during the war, Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing to mark them.

She also would never allow my ears to be pierced and would not explain why. When I was a teenager I really wanted to have earrings like everyone else so I told her she was really mean and probably did not love me. At this point she gave me an explanation: “I saw too many times woman’s ear rings getting torn out of their ears”.

I also wanted to explain the meaning of the grey stripes in the background of the quilt, they symbolize the stripes of the uniform in the concentration camp. Can you see the yellow star covering the center of the quilt?

I want to tell you a little bit about myself.

I work in automotive design as a computer model maker. I did quilting as a hobby for many years. Then came 2008  and I lost my work at Ford. I was trying to figure out what to do with myself and all I could come up was teaching what I know and love, portrait quilting. I developed a quilting business until the car business got back on track. Now I am back to model making but I also teach occasionally portrait quilting. On my website I have under student’s work samples of what people do in my workshop.

I am best known for my 2 day portrait quilting workshop. Every one participating has to bring their own photo to work with.

Fabric portraits are not like any other quilts, they are special, and they are truly a labor of love. I have yet to have a student that brought a photo of some pretty face that came in their new wallet. Instead people bring photos of a loved one, some living or some who passed away, often wanting to make a memorial to a mother or father that they loved and lost. Sometimes it’s a portrait of grandchild they never get to see or the one that grows up and moves away. It seems like an ultimate gesture of love and dedication that people exercise when they make these portraits. They are trying to capture the essence of a person, so much the same way that I have been doing since the first time I first started drawing. It can truly be a therapeutic experience.

ETQ: Thank You for sharing!

Here are some of her quilts she has done over the years… and you can check out ‘Survivors 2003’ at the Pick Anthropology Museum this fall!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: