Archives

Book Review: The Warp-Weighted Loom

book-coverThe Warp-Weighted Loom, by Hildur Hákonardóttir, Elizabeth Johnston, Marta Kløve Juuhl, Edited by Randi Andersen and Atle Ove Martinussen

(This book can be purchased through the bookstore of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.)

By Wendy Sundquist

I love books that turn out to be more than what you originally expected them to be.  The Warp-Weighted Loom is one of those books.  Over the years I have seen exquisitely fine fabric that Elizabeth Johnston has woven on the standing loom at Old Scatness in Shetland.  I was able to handle the vararfeldur that Marta Kløve Juulh had in her possession on the Vesterheim Textile Tour in 2011.  It was remarkably soft and lightweight, fitting into a cloth shopping bag.  After these experiences, I was really looking forward to this new book.

This interdisciplinary book is a product of the main three authors’ research and weaving in collaboration with the Osterøy Museum and The Museum Center in Hordaland and others. It serves in part as a way to transfer and preserve the skills and knowledge within this traditional craft, which are truly our intangible cultural heritage.

book-spineThe Warp-Weighted Loom is bound in a manner that is reminiscent of a bound book from the Middle Ages, with thick cardboard covers and no spine.  The section-sewn binding makes this book incredibly accessible for reading and as a tool for instruction at the loom.

The book is written primarily in English and is divided into 3 sections.  Part 1 is an introduction to the 1000 year history of the warp-weighted loom told by Hákonardóttir, Johnston and Kløve Juuhl from their individual country’s perspectives of Iceland, Shetland and Norway.  Part 2 is a practical handbook that includes how to make, operate and weave on a standing loom.  This section includes detailed photos, and step-by-step instructions that are written in English, Icelandic and Norwegian.  It also covers some of the textiles traditionally produced on these looms, how to reproduce them, and an overview of spinning.  Part 3 is dedicated to research on a broad range of topics by several different authors.  Topics include The Loom in the Grave, Icelandic Textiles, Finishing Cloth in the Sea, Taatit Rugs, Weaving in the Dark, Safeguarding an Intangible Cultural Heritage and more.

The Warp-Weighted Loom is a remarkable book on so many levels.  It undertakes the preservation of women’s history as it relates to weaving and wadmal production within the North Atlantic cultural heritage.  But more importantly, it recognizes and addresses that the “knowledge of old crafts will be lost, if not maintained; the only way to do so is to conserve them, promote them and teach them.” (Sigridur Sigurdardottir p. 267)

This book is a must have for any serious weaver or student of Nordic textiles.  It is a joy!

Wendy Sundquist is a knitter, spinner, natural dyer, and weaver with a life-long passion for Scandinavian textiles.  She currently shepherds a geriatric flock of Shetland sheep on Whidbey Island in Washington state.

A Synopsis of the History of Norwegian Tapestry – and Some Thoughts about Tapestry Today

Editor’s note:  The text of this article, by noted artist Unn Sønju, first appeared in a special issue of the Norwegian magazine, Lokalhistorisk magasin (Local History Magazine).  The special double issue, 1-2, 2016, was devoted to articles on the theme of “Kunst og Husflid” (“Art and Handcraft”).

By Unn Sønju

Any weave is the interaction between the masculine warp and the feminine weft that create a cross, an ancient symbol for creation. Tapestry is one of the oldest art forms know to man. Unlike other two-dimensional art forms it has the unique property of having the image on both sides of the material. Only the simplest tools are required to weave on short or long lengths of warp.

 The Oseberg tapestry fragments

Norway is fortunate in having tapestries from different periods in its history. Through these we can learn a great deal of social and art history, and last but not least, women’s history. The oldest pictorial weaves were found in the Oseberg Viking ship, buried around 850 and excavated in 1904, near Tønsberg in Vestfold. About this find, Bjørn Hougen wrote in 1940, “Tapestry and woodcarving, in these two words lies the starting point for an entirely new perspective that the Oseberg ship has given to the art history of the Viking Age.”

Oseberg fragment, Universitets Oldsaksamling, Oslo

Oseberg fragment, Universitets Oldsaksamling, Oslo

From the first, the woodcarvings were treated with great respect, while the tapestry fragments received shamefully poor treatment. The tapestry fragments were in poor condition, appearing almost black and encased in clay and feathers, pressed together into lumps. During restoration it appeared that they were between 16 and 32 centimetres in height and thought to have been hung as long strips.

As early as 1916 four volumes of all the Oseberg finds were planned. Three volumes of all the finds, excluding the textiles, came in quick succession; the fourth on textiles took nearly 100 years before it was published in 2006. However in 1992, The Oseberg Queen’s Grave: Our national Treasure in a New Light (Osebergdronningens grav-vår nasjonal skatt i nytt lys) was published. Anne Stina Ingstad wrote that the textiles found in the burial chamber of the Oseberg ship are “without comparison in Nordic pre-history.” She points out that the tapestry fragments are by far the most important examples of the collection. With such a history isn’t it strange that these tapestries have been so overlooked and exhibited so infrequently?

Baldisol Tapestry

Baldishol

Baldishol Tapestry. Image from Wikipedia: https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldisholteppet

The next outstanding work is the Baldisol tapestry from circa 1200. After the demolition of the Baldisol church in 1887 an auction of the contents of the old church was held. An observant woman bought a dirty roll of textiles that she soon found were something extraordinarily special. With utmost care she washed the textiles, revealing images of two calendar months: May representing a man in a long smock sowing seed, and April as a young warrior in full armour riding a virile stallion. Both are depicted in an archway with a decorative background of birds and spots. The tapestry is torn at either end, indicating it could be part of a larger work, perhaps the whole calendar year. In all likelihood it was a long frieze, a beautiful tapestry in the Romanesque style. What is it that is so amazingly enchanting about the Baldisol tapestry? Its strength and clarity of colour and the total wholeness of its drawing and composition gives us a compelling image. With some knowledge of Romanesque art we can imagine how the other months might have been depicted. If we imagine a tapestry of twelve months length it may have been woven for Hamar Cathedral that was completed around 1200.

The Middle Ages

Adoration of the Magi, signed M.I.D & A.H.D, Gudbrandsdal

“Adoration of the Magi,” signed M.I.D & A.H.D, Gudbrandsdal

Between the Baldisol tapestry and 1550 there exists no evidence of Norwegian tapestries. This was a period of great hardship with 60% of the population dying of the plague, resulting in the collapse of society.

It was in the Middle Ages that many of Europe’s finest tapestries were created. Only long after this great interest for tapestry had reached is zenith there, did it eventually come to Norway, where the golden age of tapestry occurred between 1550 and 1850.

Norway had neither a tradition nor interest for painting and sculpture as in other countries in Europe, but tapestry flowered! Interest and knowledge of tapestry came first to the coastal towns and gradually spread to the rest of the country. In the eastern districts around Kristiania (now Oslo) figurative motifs were common, many from bible stories. On the west coast of Norway tapestry developed abstract and geometric imagery, while north from Trondheim ‘rya’, a tufted weave, was common that was well suited for bedspreads at home and on their fishing vessels. The Sami people had their own ‘grenvev’, literally ‘branch weave’ or weaving over a tree branch, making dynamic striped black and white tapestries.

Because Norway was a poor land that had neither a royal court nor aristocracy, women were given the opportunity to weave in small workshops. In the great tapestry workshops in Europe women were not invited to weave but could spin, tie loose threads and sweep the floors. In Norway it was an opposite situation. It was women who were the weavers, which led to a charming difference as their tapestries became more and more removed from their original prototypes. These female weavers created tapestries where women were the central motif, often derived from biblical sources.

An abstracted version of the Wise and Foolish Virgins woven by an unknown woman in Western Norway between 1750 and 1800. http://samling.nasjonalmuseet.no/no/object/OK-17392

An abstracted version of the Wise and Foolish Virgins woven by an unknown woman in Western Norway between 1750 and 1800. http://samling.nasjonalmuseet.no/no/object/OK-17392

New Flowering for Norwegian Tapestry

After 1850 tapestries were seen as being old fashioned and uninteresting as painting and sculpture became the leading art forms. At the end of the century there was a growing interest in Norwegian nationalism and folk culture renewing interest in the old tapestries. These tapestries were exhibited in museums and galleries at home and abroad and this encouraged a new interest in weaving and tapestry. Weavers who previously were anonymous were now known by their own name and were recognised in society as artists. Frida Hansen was the first who received international recognition, followed by Hannah Ryggen, Synnøve Anker Aurdal, Jan Groth and an increasing number of tapestry artists since the 1970s.

Hannah Ryggen. "Vi Lever på en Stjerne." ("We Live on a Star")

Hannah Ryggen. “Vi Lever på en Stjerne.” (“We Live on a Star”)

Today there are a large number of artists who have chosen tapestry as their prime form of expression. Tapestry is a natural part of the Norwegian and international art scene that becomes continually broader in its scope of media and expression due to education and advances in technology. Today a tapestry can be totally realised from idea to finished product by the use of data programming. A fine example of this is the theatre curtain designed by Pae White in the Opera House in Oslo. Today tapestries are to be found in many public buildings the world over, as indeed are books, showing the work of outstanding tapestry artists. Large group and travelling exhibitions bring to the public the latest ideas and developments in tapestry art. In Norway in the 1960-70s tapestry was much sought after and now, in the past few years, there is renewed and exciting interest.

To renew an old craft is both a challenge and a responsibility. If tapestry no longer mirrors and reflects its contemporary society it soon loses any interest and quickly becomes neglected and indifferent. Tapestry, like all visual art, can be divided into three stages: idea, craft and form/presentation that must work together for a convincing totality. The idea is the springboard and energy, through craft and technique the idea becomes an object, and the form is the final presentation.

Thread on thread, patience and concentration, such is the artist’s wonder and experience in the creation of a tapestry.

Translation of the original article from Lokalhistorisk magasin was provided by the author, Unn Sønju.
Unn Sønju was born in 1938 in Oslo, Norway; she currently lives and works in Oslo and Flesberg, Norway. She was educated at Leeds College of Art, England (1957-59) and the Women’s Industrial School, Norway (1960-62). She was a lecturer in Experimental Textiles in the Department of Fine Art in Leeds from 1965-77, and Tapestry Professor at Oslo University College from 1999-2005. She has been featured in 32 solo exhibitions in Scandinavian and Great Britain, and participated in over 100 group exhibitions worldwide. 39 of her tapestries appear in public spaces.
Learn more about the author’s work in tapestry in another article in this issue:, “Influences in my Art: Reflections,” and at her website, unnsonju.com.

Influences in my Art: Reflections

By Unn Sonju

Oseberg fragment, Universitets Oldsaksamling, Oslo

Oseberg fragment, Universitets Oldsaksamling, Oslo

The tapestry fragments from Oseberg have always been of central interest to my work. They are both mysterious and revealing. The early Vikings wove long, narrow lengths depicting events that were important in their lives. The technique is so antiquated and complicated, the threads being so thin and closely woven that I doubt if anyone could hand weave so finely today. These tapestries are thought to have  decorated the walls in the Viking long houses. Thinking about these tapestries it suddenly occurred to me that weaving long lengths is fundamental to the loom.

This discovery encouraged me to make long, narrow tapestries depicting events central to my life, some being 15 to 20 metres long.

"Running Hare," 1993

“Running Hare,” 1993

baldisholThe Baldishol tapestry is woven in a technique very similar to the way I weave today. The images are bold and clear, one depicting Man and Nature the other Man the Warrior. So much of my work is either gleaned directly from nature or is an outcry against man’s warring violence and destruction.

 

Unn Sønju, "Blood cannot be washed out with blood," 2010. Wool on wool warp, 280 x 250 cm.

Unn Sønju, “Blood cannot be washed out with blood,” 2010. Wool on wool warp, 280 x 250 cm.

My first art education was at Leeds College of Art, England. There I found myself at the centre of an art educational revolution where the emphasis was on an analysis of the constituent parts of art rather than the academic tradition. Here the idea was placed above craft and technique, innovation and imaginative leaps encouraged. It was unconventional thinking about the nature and creation of art that has patterned my thinking, teaching, ideas and actions to the present day.

"Aroma of Marshland," 2017

“Aroma of Marshland,” 2017

After Leeds, by chance I heard on the Norwegian radio a woman speaking about ‘piss blue’, her beloved indigo dye. This was the voice of Hannah Ryggen, an outstanding artist and tapestry weaver. I didn’t know of her, or her art. It was the passion she conveyed in telling about the trials and tribulations suffered in order to make her own ‘indigo blue’ that spurred me on to learn tapestry. In order to do this I enrolled in a course in tapestry at Den Kvinnelige Industriskole (The Womens Industrial School) in Oslo. In contrast to Leeds, here the emphasis was entirely on craft and technique and only the Norwegian tapestry tradition.

The early 60’s found me engaged fulltime with tapestry yet it would take almost 20 years before I really discovered the unique plastic qualities of tapestry. The ‘Eureka’ moment came when I understood that tapestry had two sides! The image was on both sides of the material, one image being the mirror of the other! This opened up a horizon of possibilities in both 2 and 3 dimensions. I found that the tapestry material could be twisted, knotted, turned and could move in any direction, the aim being always to clarify my fundamental visual idea.

"The Sea is Waving," 1989

“The Sea is Waving,” 1989

Unn Sønju, May 17, 2017
Unn Sønju was born in 1938 in Oslo, Norway; she currently lives and works in Oslo and Flesberg, Norway. She was educated at Leeds College of Art, England (1957-59) and the Women’s Industrial School, Norway (1960-62). She was a lecturer in Experimental Textiles in the Department of Fine Art in Leeds from 1965-77, and Tapestry Professor at Oslo University College from 1999-2005. She has been featured in 32 solo exhibitions in Scandinavian and Great Britain, and participated in over 100 group exhibitions worldwide. 39 of her tapestries appear in public spaces.
Enjoy these additional tapestries included below, and learn more about the author’s work at her website, unnsonju.com.
"Unopened Letter," 1981

“Unopened Letter,” 1981

"Sky Pockets," 1996

“Sky Pockets,” 1996

Guantanamo-2009-73x104cm copy

“Guantanamo,” 2009

"Greenhouse," 2007

“Greenhouse,” 2007

"Bathers," 1975

“Bathers,” 1975

Wisdom and Folly: Norwegian Pictorial Textiles

snap-from-haliThis beautifully written and illustrated article on Norwegian billedvev (tapestry) by Jo Nilsson is from the January 1998 issue of HALI Magazine, and reprinted with the permission of the publishers. THANK YOU, HALI Magazine.

The author discusses Norwegian billedvev within the context of European tapestry development, the looms used, and the popular images depicted on the tapestries.  She adds interesting cultural history; for example, she discusses the use of tapestries as coverlets for the bridal bed.

“Troels-Lund’s studies of daily life in the Nordic countries during the 16th century provide us with detailed information about the bridal custom known as “mounting the bed,” in which newlyweds were required to lie on the bridal bed while a speaker delivered a lengthy talk.  The couple would generally lie down fully clad in the bed and draw the coverlet over themselves while the wedding assembly watched.  By the 17th century the practice was modified in many areas, with the couple sitting on the bed while a guest, relative or priest spoke about the ‘Flemish’ coverlet draped over it; presumably the tapestry had a Biblical theme.”

Apparently some Norwegian wives didn’t say, “Kjæreste, pass på teppet (Sweetheart, watch out for the coverlet),” when their husbands laid down for a nap.  Nilsson wrote, “A textile restorer at Maihaugen Museum in Lillehammer noticed worn areas in the same places on many coverlets and suggested that they were caused by husbands taking midday naps on top of the coverlet while wearing knives on their belts.  The coverlets were probably placed on the bed during the day and removed at night.”

Again, we can enjoy the article thanks to the reprint permission from HALI Magazine.

Malin Lonnberg, Assistant Editor at HALI, wrote, “Last year we digitised our whole archive of back issues, meaning that subscribers can now access what we call the HALI Archive online. All the back issues are searchable, which is handy for those with specific textile interests (say Scandinavian textiles). HALI subscribers now get full digital access to the HALI Archive, featuring every HALI since 1978. For only £60/€88/$120, subscribers receive four printed issues of HALI a year and fully searchable access to over 189 editions.  See www.hali.com for more information.”

Download pdf here.

Note: the file is large, but needs to be, for the best representation of the beautiful photographs. Also, the print is quite small.  The original is larger than standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper, so the article is reduced in scale.

Celebrating Tapestry Artist Brita Been

By Karianne H. Sand,  January 14, 2017

Editor’s note: One of the problems with seeing notices on the Web for tempting exhibits of work by Norwegian textile artists is that, well, Norway is far away! Early this year an exhibit of the monumental tapestries of Brita Been opened in Skien, Norway. Karianne H. Sand delivered the welcoming remarks and she shared her talk with us, so we can imagine being there in person. These two photo collages were posted in a blog entry about the opening from the Skien Kunstforening, sponsor of the exhibit. Robbie LaFleur

been-collage-4_orig

collagebeen-3_orig

 

Dear everyone.  Dear Brita.

I wish to congratulate both Brita Been and the Skien Art Association–Brita for her 70 years and for her fantastic exhibit.  This year the professional organization Norwegian Textile Artists celebrates its 40th year, and it is this organization for which I serve as director.  Brita Been, too, is a member, and it is a great honor for me to be allowed to open this year of celebration with a textile celebration in her name.

This exhibit is called Arvestykker [“Heirlooms”], named for one of Brita’s woven series on display.  The exhibit also includes the series Skybragd [“Cloud Pattern”] and Repetisjoner [“Repetitions”].

dsc8504_orig

Rugs in the Repetisjoner series. Photo from the Skien Kunstnerforbundet

The series Repetisjoner is the earliest of the series in this exhibit.  And, where there is weaving, there surely is repetition.  Brita herself says that she creates three to four pieces per year, which speaks to how time consuming the process is.   It is time consuming and filled with repetition—the same motion over and over again.  Weaving is mathematics and geometry, something the works in this series reflect in their images.  Here one sees the repetitions, the mathematics and geometric shapes. Brita’s design language has clear references to the Bauhaus school and functionalism.  She constructs surfaces and creates space using color and design alone.  Patterns have no beginning and no end, like a machine that roars into motion.  But in the midst of all this, Brita sits and weaves with her hands—and with this closeness to her materials, she creates a fantastic energy and pulse in the tapestries.

repetisjon

A detail from the Repetisjoner series, from Britabeen.no

Brita has an impressive curriculum vita, and I shall not even attempt to list the most important places where she has had her work exhibited—yet I feel it revolves around her having had one-woman shows at the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum [the National Museum of Decorative Arts, Trondheim], Kunstnerforbundet [contemporary art gallery, Oslo], Hå gamle Prestegård [Hå old parsonage farm, Jæren, Western Norway, now an art and historical culture center] and, last but not least, SOFT Gallery [the gallery of Norwegian Textile Artists, Oslo], where I work, and, of course, the Skien Kunstforening [Skien Art Association].  She has also exhibited in several locations around the world.

Chinese-inspired clouds

Chinese-inspired clouds, from Britabeen.no

One of several old Norwegian skybragd weavings in the Norwegian Digital Museum, at: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011023238942/putetrekk

One of several old Norwegian skybragd weavings in the Norwegian Digital Museum, at: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011023238942/putetrekk

I wish to draw attention to one biennial event in which she has participated no fewer than four times, the International Fiber Art Biennial, which takes place in China.  It is from this meeting with the East that the inspiration for the series Skybragd comes.  Here, Brita became fascinated with the reliefs carved in marble of variations of the cloud motif, and she then combined this with the old, traditional pattern, skybragd, that was used in earlier Norwegian weaving tradition.  In the National Museum’s archives, I found one piece with that title dating from between 1700 and 1760.  It appears that this pattern, based on the pomegranate and palmette motifs, is a universal motif that has moved across cultures and through time.  Here, Brita weaves together the West and the East.  Everything is connected.

The series Arvestykker began when Brita was given a commission to decorate the Bø Hospital retirement home.  She wanted the tapestries to give both residents and visitors a sense of belonging and recognition.  Therefore, she took as her point of reference Telemark’s strong folk costume culture.  It has, of course, been known for a long time that the most beautiful costumes of all come from there.  And, if any of you are in West Oslo on the 17th of May, you will see that everyone there originally comes from Telemark…*  But, there is a reason why this costume is so popular, for it is rich and colorful, with beautiful details.

Detail from the an Arvestykker tapestry

Detail from the an Arvestykker tapestry, from BritaBeen,no

In this series, Brita has taken as her reference the embroidery on the costume’s stockings and shirts and translated them to another strong folk tradition—that is, weaving.  The lovely details from the folk costume are now allowed to play the lead role in Brita’s work.  The powerful handwork that took hours to embroider now gets to be not just a decoration and pretty detail but the work itself.  Brita herself says, “These tapestries are a celebration of women’s creative work, their time and patience.”

The exhibition shows three different series, but at the same time as Brita manages to constantly renew herself, she also remains true to herself.  There is no doubt when one encounters a Brita Been tapestry that it is her creation.  The same is true for the woman herself—when one meets Brita Been, one knows that it is Brita Been.  I still remember the first time I met you ten years ago at the exhibit honoring stipend award-winners held at City Hall.  I remember you, dressed entirely in bright pink stripes, your dark page-boy haircut, and, not least of all, your incredibly joyful and energetic radiance.  I remember I thought then what I think now—this is an incredibly cool lady.

Warm congratulations, Brita, for the year, the day, and the exhibit.

*The reference to everyone coming from Telemark is because the Telemark-style folk costume is so popular and worn by many Norwegians, regardless of where their families originally lived.

Karianne H. Sand is an art historian and the head of Norske Tekstilkunstnere (Norwegian Textile Artists) and the SOFT Gallery in Oslo, the site of frequent cutting-edge textile exhibits.
Translated by Edi Thorstensson

Read more about the work of Brita Been on her site, britabeen.no, including an article from a 2015 issue of the Swedish Väv Magasin that gives interesting details about her weaving technique as well as her inspiration. Several of her tapestries are found on the Norwegian Absolute Tapestry site, here.

Threads of Devotion: Possible Medieval Origins of Nordic Christening Bands

By Lisa-Anne Bauch

draped-detailAt a recent visit to the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, several items in a folk art display caught my eye. They included a birch bark basket, a red coverlet, and a woven band, all dating from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. My friend Jan Mostrom, an expert in Nordic textiles, explained that the items were intended for use in baptism. All three were decorated with protective symbols, intended to shield the vulnerable infant from evil spirits until the sacrament could be performed. (See more photos here.)

A few months later, I happened to enroll in an art history course at the University of St. Thomas. The course, taught by Dr. Michelle Nordtorp-Madson, was entitled “Medieval Sacred Space.” In this fascinating seminar we investigated the idea of sacred versus mundane space, including not just the soaring cathedrals of the Middle Ages, but also its woven tapestries and illuminated manuscripts, its popular roadside shrines and dusty pilgrimage routes, the beehive huts of Scottish monks and the ancient holy wells of Ireland.

Besides regular coursework, each student was required to undertake an independent research topic focused around the following questions: How did people in those times understand and define certain places, times, seasons, objects, and activities as sacred? How did the newer sacred times and places of Christianity overlap with older pagan practices and beliefs? And how did medieval artists express these ideas visually?

I immediately remembered the red woven christening bands I had seen, used to protect babies as they traveled from the mundane world of the home to the sacred space of a local church and its baptismal font. Could this tradition go back to the Middle Ages, with echoes from an even-older pagan age? How did the bands visually represent the beliefs of those who wove them? How are the colors and patterns significant in answering these questions? Since Dr. Nordtorp-Madson specializes in clothing and textile arts, she was as curious as I was to investigate. With her help and encouragement, I began my quest.

Click here to read PDF

Below are a few of the photos I used to illustrate my presentation of the paper, leased from the Norse Folkemuseum. They illustrate bands used in christenings.

Doll 1

https://digitaltmuseum.no/011013439205/valle-aust-agder-1935-reivebarn-dukke-ifort-spedbarnsutstyr

Christening 1

https://digitaltmuseum.no/011013444239/barnedap

Band Sling 2

https://digitaltmuseum.no/011013438297/gurine-engedal-baerer-barn-i-linde-til-dap-fjotland-kvinesdal-1941

Band Sling 1

https://digitaltmuseum.no/011013438526/torbjorg-fidjeland-med-barn-i-fatle-i-sirdal-kalt-linde-og-botte-og-rive

 

Monster Weaving Update

Marta Kløve Juuhl recently reported that the “monster weaving” at the Osterøy Museum has reached the ceiling. Enjoy these photos, and if you missed the description of the seat-belt-webbing weaving, read it here: “Weaving on the Ceiling: A New Exhibit and Installation at the Osterøy Museum.”

Perhaps this scaffolding, as a support structure for weaving, could be considered a sort of loom?

Perhaps this scaffolding, as a support structure for weaving, could be considered a sort of loom?

Marta Kløve Juuhl under the Norwegian star

Marta Kløve Juuhl under the Norwegian star

Perhaps Monika Ravnanger  had tired arms after waving above her head?

Perhaps Monika Ravnanger had tired arms after weaving above her head?

This photo showing the wall and ceiling gives a good sense of the huge scale of this project

This photo showing the wall and ceiling gives a good sense of the huge scale of this project

Exhibit: Historical Scandinavian Textiles (Part One)

By Robbie LaFleur

At every meeting of the long-standing Scandinavian Weavers Study Group of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, members and guests bring weavings for show and tell. Usually we discuss our own creations, but often members bring pieces they have purchased or otherwise acquired.  These pieces are admired and studied, and in may cases, inspire new adaptations by group members.

Members of the group have seen many fabulous textiles over the years, and now we are sharing the opportunity to see them in person with visitors to the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, and digitally to the readers of the Norwegian Textile Letter.

These treasures from the collections of the study group members are a motley bunch, considering technique, materials, and method of acquisition.  What they share is good design and owners who appreciate and treasure them.

The pieces featured in this article, arranged by owner, are on display at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota until the end of December.

Where do the textiles come from?

Several pieces in the show are Swedish weavings gifted to Melba Granlund by her friend from church who knew that Melba would understand them and value them.

Some of our members are veteran scanners of online sales and recognize treasures. Sylvia Mohn bought mid-century Finnish transparencies. Jane Connett knew quite well that a tapestry reproduction of a row of Wise and Foolish Virgins was not an Albanian kelim, as was advertised on Ebay!

While buying Scandinavian dining room chairs, Phyllis Waggoner spotted rag rugs that had been used in shipping containers from Sweden, and bought them for a song.

Judy Larson shared a tapestry from a Swedish weaver who inspired her weaving journey. And finally, Karin Maahs shares family pieces she has known and loved her whole life.

Prepare to be inspired!

Phyllis Waggoner Recognized Rag Rug Treasures

Long Rag rug: plain weave. Warp: cotton seine twine sett at 9 epi.  Weft: rags, 2 cm wide of various fibers. Warp ends covered with fabric binding. 12’ 6” long, 21” wide.

long-rug

This was a serendipitous purchases from the International Design Center, importers of mid-century Modern Scandinavian furniture, about 1998. Well-worn rag rugs were used to wrap the furniture that was shipped from Scandinavia to the US. Phyllis paid about $10 each for four Swedish rag rugs.

img_0214-1The rugs were in a big pile at the corner of the showroom where I was shopping for dining room chairs to go with our teak table. Not surprisingly, the mound caught my attention and I asked the salesman about the rugs and he explained how they came to his showroom.

Smaller Rag rug: twill threading, treadled as Overshot and plain weave. Warp: cotton sett at 8 epi. Weft: 2 cm for plain weave, pattern weft 3 cm. Warp finish, overhand knots.

smal-rug

 

This rug was purchased from a spinning wheel importer who explained that the rugs were used to wrap the spinning wheels during shipment from Sweden. Phyllis paid about $15.

Melba Granlund’s Gifts and Flea Market Find

Dukagång Pillow Cover.  Warp: linen. Weft: linen background and wool pattern inlay.  23″ x 22″ wide. Similar dukagång motifs are depicted in Gunvor Johansson’s book, Skanska Allmogevävnader, now available in English as Heirlooms of Skåne: Weaving Techniques.

 

dukagang

Swedish Art Weave Wool Runner, combining dukagång, and krabbesnår. Warp: linen. Weft: wool. 22″ x 75″ long.

art-weave-runner

details

Swedish Art Weave Runner, combining rölakan and dukagång techniques. Warp: linen. Weft: wool.  23.5″ wide x 48.5″ long.

rolakan

 

Runner in M.M.F. (Marta Maas Fetterstrom) Technique. Warp: linen.  Weft: linen tow yarn for structural background, wool for the inlay pattern. 23.5″ wide x 78″ long (including fringe). The technique is described in the Manual of Swedish Handweaving by Ulla Cyrus-Zetterstrom, pp. 132-4.

mmf

Melba explained the source of her beautiful pieces:

These four pieces were gifted to me from a close friend.  She and her husband, a former pastor, had received them (along with other weavings) from a parishioner while serving a congregation in Worcester, Massachusetts.    The pieces were apparently woven by someone in the woman’s family in southern Sweden.   Because the woman had no family to which they should be given, she gifted them to the pastor and his wife.   Knowing of my love for Swedish weaving and that my mother came from Skane, Sweden, close to where these weavings were created, my friend thought I should now assume the role of caretaker of these lovely pieces. Consultation with Laurann Gilbertsen, Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, revealed that all the pieces dated back to the late 19th or early 20th century.

Black/red/blue woolen table runner.  Warp: linen.  Weft: wool. 23.5″ wide x 89″ long.

black-swedish

helsinki-detailOn the final day of the 2013 Vesterheim Textile Tour, we had a free morning in Helsinki, Finland.  Having heard of a flea market only a few short blocks from our hotel, some of us decided what better way to spend our last few hours before leaving for the airport.  Besides, I still had $50 Euros burning a hole in my pocket.  At the first booth, I struck gold at the bottom of a cardboard box, in the form of two wonderful textiles — one woolen paisley shawl and the other a long, black woolen table runner.  Another shopper told me that the piece looked like weaving from the Karelia region of Finland, which our group had just visited a few days earlier.

Upon returning home, I showed this piece to Laurann Gilbertsen, Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Mususem in Decorah, Iowa.  She confirmed that the piece was woven in the Swedish krabbasnår technique. Apparently, the clue was in the finely spun yarn and the colors used.  Although Swedish krabbasnår is the same as the Norwegian Vestfoldmett technique, much heavier, thicker yarn is used in the Norwegian pieces.  Upon further research, I located examples of similar motifs in Doris Wiklund’s book, Old Swedish Weavings from North to South (pp.232-5).  In the book, the pieces are identified as being purchased in Dalarna from an itinerant peddlar woman.

The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has similar pieces in its collection. The American Swedish Institute also has many pieces in this technique, probably because they were popular tourist items sold in Sweden.

See Part Two for more Scandinavian textile treasures.

 

 

Exhibit: Historical Scandinavian Textiles (Part Two)

Karin Maahs has treasures she has known her whole life, and a recent find.

Tapestry cartoon. Hans Georg Berg. Watercolor, 1929. 22″ x 23″ wide.

cartoon

Best photo available due to glass

Hans Berg, born in 1895 in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway,  studied painting under Christian Krohg at the National Art Academy in Oslo. After marrying Inga, he studied in several academies in Paris, Germany, Italy, France, and throughout Europe. He practised in several media: oil painting, fresco, watercolor, drawing, jewelry making, metalwork, and ceramics.  At one point Hans worked as a silversmith for David Andersen, a famous jeweler in Norway. In 1950, following WWII, Hans, Inga, and their youngest daughter Ellen emigrated to America and settled in the Minneapolis area. Hans became one of the premier rosemaling artists in Minnesota, and taught painting and rosemaling at Augsburg College.

Tapestry. Inga Berg. warp: linen.  weft: handspun and dyed wool. Woven in the early 1930s. 22″ x 23″ wide (excluding fringe)

berg-tapestry

Inga Berg, born in 1897 in Lier, Norway, married artist Hans Berg in 1921.  They studied art on a months-long honeymoon throughout Europe. In 1929 Inga studied weaving theory at Sister Bengston’s weaving school in Oslo, Norway. She was prolific in spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and sewing.  Often Hans would create a pattern for his adoring wife to weave.

Karin has many memories of the artistic activities of her grandparents.

Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom (not in the exhibit).

Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom (not in the exhibit).

As a child growing up in the 60s and 70s, living next door to my grandparents, I spent countless hours watching, listening, and learning about all kinds of art.  Many afternoons were spent quietly watching grandma weaving by a big picture window in the warm winter sunlight. I was also mesmerized by watching grandpa paint. With grandma, I often sat on the floor waiting for instruction as to when to push the peddles for the spinning wheel or the very old Singer sewing machine.

Inga made many pillowcases, table runners, and wall coverings large and small to warm and decorate the house.  Every flat area in their home was covered with paintings or weavings. It was a true museum filled with inspiration to fill the artistic imagination.

I recall that this particular weaving portrays a Norwegian folk tale, possibly Hans Christian Andersen’s “Folksangens fugl.” Hans Berg designed and painted it in 1929 and Inga wove it shortly after that, using her own handspun and dyed wool.

Monksbelt Coverlet.  Warp: linen. Weft: linen background and wool pattern weft.

red-coverlet

It is not certain that this coverlet is from Scandinavia, but if we were told it was from Sweden or Norway, it would seem quite plausible.  Karin found the textile on a recent trip to the East Coast.

monksbelt-detailI purchased it from Lifeline Thrift in Portsmouth, Virginia.  I was told it was acquired from a very old farmstead in Suffolk, Virginia, just up the river from Jamestown.  It appears to have handspun linen warp and handspun and dyed wool weft.  It is delightful to dream about who may have woven this, more than a century ago, and who may have used it.  This is a treasure from colonial times with a Scandinavian flair.

Judith Payne, who is familiar with historical textiles, estimated that the coverlet is 18th century, mid to late. It is woven in a Monks Belt structure called checkerboard. The dye is cochineal, madder or bloodroot.

The coverlet has been cleaned by placing a screen over it and gently vacuuming using an attachment tool.

Judy Larson received her treasure decades ago.

Tapestry of Rattvik, Sweden. By Kerstin Ackerman.  Warp: cotton. Weft: fabric strips. 15″ x 12″ wide.

sweden-tapestry

Judy described how she came to own this tapestry.

My grandfather’s cousin’s wife was one of the first Swedish relatives I met in 1976.  She was  a weaver, who had the studio on the first floor and lived on the second floor of the family homestead in Vikarbyn, Sweden.  She showed me her Glimakra loom, with the photograph of the village on Lake Siljan all gridded out.  Then she explained that she would go line by line, adding in the colors as needed, and counting the spaces to determine the length.  As a college student, I was amazed and intrigued, but never thought I’d ever have a chance to explore the wonders of weaving.

Now, when I go to see Kerstin, which I still do every other year, she has stopped weaving and taken up photography, so we discuss my weavings.  She still has a special stash of her weavings that she gives as special presents, like the Rattvik rug that she gave my daughter for a wedding gift.  Kerstin’s looms are now part of a village weaving cooperative, but she still has a houseful of beautiful weavings on her floors and walls.  Her rugs still inspire me, and I treasure the weavings that I have from her.

Jane Connett knows Norwegian tapestry when she sees it.

virgin1

Tapestry.  Warp: linen. Weft: wool. 20.5″ x 30″ wide.

Jane Connett acquired a beautiful Norwegian tapestry during a time she was feeling a bit laid up a few months ago.  “I spent a lot of time on Ebay,” she explained.  Although the tapestry was advertised as an “Albanian kelim,” fans of Norwegian tapestry know perfectly well that it is a replica of a portion of a Norwegian Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry.  It was slightly faded on one side, but the colors were clear and strong on the other.  The technical quality of the weaving is outstanding.  Since the weaving followed Norwegian tradition, all the ends were sewn in so that either side is equally beautiful.

Sylvia Mohn was active on Ebay.

Kastehlmi (Dewdrop). Warp and weft: linen. Woven label: Kasityoliike Sylvi Salonen, Handmade in Finland.   Design: Ritta Suomi. 41.5″ x 21.5″ wide (with frame).

circles

 

circles-detail_edited-1I bought this perhaps 10 or 15 years ago on eBay.  At the time I was looking for woven wall hangings using peach/rust/brick colors. This weaving was a similar in construction to a transparent weaving I’d gotten earlier, with the weaving lashed onto a frame.  What I liked about the design were the curved lines, the lightness and openness, and the asymmetry.  I thought this might be from the 1970’s with the orange and brown colors, reflecting the midcentury popularity of imported Scandinavian textiles and graphics.

Puluset.  (Doves).  Warp and weft: linen. Woven label:  Sylvi Salonen*.  Design:  Tuula Jarvinen. 21.5′ x 21.5″ (with frame). 

birds

birds-detailI bought this weaving at a local thrift store, perhaps 15 years ago. I liked the way the birds were abstracted into a graphic design, with their rounded lines juxtaposed against a linear background, even though the colors seemed a bit dull.

*Anita Jain, a Finnish-American textile artist, added information about the pieces, including the English words for the titles of the transparencies.  Sylvi Salonen is the name of a handcraft store in Turku. It was started by Sylvi Salonen in 1927, was later run by her daughter, Riitta Suomi, and is now operated by Riitta’s daughter, Sanna Suomi.

See more treasures in Part One of this article.

50 Years of Folk Art at Vesterheim

By Laurann Gilbertson

Exhibition: 50 Years of Folk Art

vesterheimVesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, is celebrating 50 years of folk art, through classes, the National Exhibitions of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition, and tours to Norway.  To mark this important anniversary, Vesterheim has created a special exhibition to share at least a few of the stories of 20 folk art tours to Norway, 90 Norwegian teachers, 145 American teachers, hundreds of class topics, and hundreds – if not thousands – of students between 1967 to 2016.

What is Folk Art?

Folk art is simply art of the people.  American folk art is often defined as the work of self-taught artists, artists who have not had formal artistic training.  It can be “outsider” art, created by artists who have had little contact with the mainstream art world and who may be expressing unconventional ideas or spiritual visions.

Folk art can also be defined as global art, fitting closely to local traditions.  At Vesterheim, Norwegian folk art typically refers to useful objects created and decorated using local materials by individuals of a particular, often rural, region of Norway between 1600 and 1900. These objects and techniques usually expressed regional aesthetic and styles and were borne of traditions developed over several hundred years. The craftspeople that made these items typically learned their trades informally or through apprenticeships. The objects they created needed to be functional and beautiful.

What is Tradition?

Tradition is a repeated pattern of behaviors, beliefs, or objects passed down from one generation to the next.  We follow traditions because they mean something to us. Traditions change through time and evolve with the availability of resources, forces of nature, personal taste, political or religious ideas, and foreign influences. All traditions change. But how far can they change?

Can an object made today be called traditional folk art? The artists of the eighteenth century didn’t have commercially-spun yarn, chemical dyes, circular knitting needles. Can an object made using these things be called traditional folk art?

Vesterheim often uses the phrase “in the tradition” to describe objects made today that are based on or inspired by historical examples. As long as there is a strong visual connection, it seems acceptable to change to the material OR technique OR medium. Too many changes, however, and the piece is no longer recognizable as having been part of the Norwegian tradition.

Folk Art and Vesterheim

Vesterheim began in 1877 as the Luther College Museum and folk art was part of the collection from the very beginning. Norwegian immigrant materials, including folk art brought from Norway, became the official focus of the collection by 1895.

In 1964, Luther College hired Marion Nelson, an art historian, to catalog the collection. He soon became director of an independent, world-class Vesterheim museum. Nelson was passionate about folk art and saw the collection’s potential to educate artists interested in Norwegian folk art. Nelson launched the Folk Art School and National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition in 1967.

Weaving was added to the National Exhibition, an annual judged exhibition of folk art in the Norwegian tradition, in 1981. A jacket woven by Marie Nodland of St. Paul, Minnesota, won a blue ribbon that year. The diamond twill reverses to rya (pile weave) and there are handknit collar and cuffs.

Weaving was added to the National Exhibition, an annual judged exhibition of folk art in the Norwegian tradition, in 1981. A jacket woven by Marie Nodland of St. Paul, Minnesota, won a blue ribbon that year. The diamond twill reverses to rya (pile weave) and there are handknit collar and cuffs.

While Nelson was interested in folk art as an academic, he did not create folk art himself. His wife, Lila Nelson, was an accomplished weaver and textile artist who would go on to teach many textile classes at Vesterheim in her capacity as textile curator.

The opportunity to study and practice of folk art is also offered through tours to Norway.  The first tours, starting in 1970, provided a folk art focus while traveling.  Since 1978, tours often included hands-on workshops with local artists as instructors.

Students learned Telemarksvev in the weaving class during Vesterheim’s first hands-on Folk Art Tour to Norway in 1978. The teacher, Elsa Bjerck, is standing in back, second from the right. Lila Nelson, the museum’s Textile Curator, is second from the left.

Students learned Telemarksvev in the weaving class during Vesterheim’s first hands-on Folk Art Tour to Norway in 1978. The teacher, Elsa Bjerck, is standing in back, second from the right. Lila Nelson, the museum’s Textile Curator, is second from the left.

Fiber Arts at Vesterheim

A wide range of fiber classes have been offered at Vesterheim, from embroidery, knitting, nålbinding (knotless netting), spinning, loom weaving, bandweaving, sheepskin printing, and basketry.

Oline Bredeli of Molde, Norway, taught weaving and working with teger, birch or spruce root, in 1982 and 1990. Canadian artist Karen Casselman’s specialty is historical plant dyes. She taught dyeing at Vesterheim in 1997, 2002, and 2005. For this placemat, she used korkje, a Norwegian dye made from fermented lichens.

Oline Bredeli of Molde, Norway, taught weaving and working with teger, birch or spruce root, in 1982 and 1990. Canadian artist Karen Casselman’s specialty is historical plant dyes. She taught dyeing at Vesterheim in 1997, 2002, and 2005. For this placemat, she used korkje, a Norwegian dye made from fermented lichens.

Fiber arts have been at the core of Vesterheim’s Folk Art School since 1967 when Carola Schmidt taught the first class in hardangersøm, a cutwork and embroidery technique from the Hardanger region of Norway.

Grace Rikansrud, a nationally recognized expert on Norwegian needlework from Decorah, began her two decade teaching career in 1970. Rug hooking was also added in 1970, along with the first weaving course taught by Lila Nelson, Vesterheim’s registrar and textile curator. Nelson gave students an overview of Norwegian weaving by focusing on traditional coverlet techniques, which continues to be a focus of weaving classes today.

Vesterheim hosted a rug hooking camp for many years and rug hooking was part of the National Exhibition from 1970 to 2005.  Now independent, the Decorah Rug School continues to meet each summer for classes.  Marianna Sausaman (West Lafayette, Ind.), Esther Miller (Decorah, Iowa), Anne Duder (Decorah, Iowa), and Dorothy Huse (Chippewa Falls, Wisc.) have directed the rug school.

The first weaving class with a Norwegian instructor was in 1978.  Elsa Eikås Bjerck, from Jølster in Sunnfjord, taught tapestry and bandweaving at Vesterheim.  An important weaver in her own right, Bjerck is known for traditional and contemporary textiles, monumental works for public buildings, and church textiles.

Elsa Eikås Bjerck was the first Norwegian instructor to teach weaving at Vesterheim. In 1978 she also taught weaving on a Vesterheim folk art tour to Norway. This piece replicates an early bed pillow from Jølster in Sogn, Norway, in plant-dyed wool on linen. The mittens were done in nålbinding, an ancient looping technique.

Elsa Eikås Bjerck was the first Norwegian instructor to teach weaving at Vesterheim. In 1978 she also taught weaving on a Vesterheim folk art tour to Norway. This piece replicates an early bed pillow from Jølster in Sogn, Norway, in plant-dyed wool on linen. The mittens were done in nålbinding, an ancient looping technique.

What has always set Vesterheim’s Folk Art School apart from other visual art and fine handcraft programs is the focus on historical objects – the collection – that can inform and inspire. Most classes at Vesterheim include a guided visit in the museum galleries or look at the depth and breadth of the collection in the museum’s storage facilities.

The Future of Folk Art

What does the future look like for Norwegian folk art in America?  Are traditions going to live another 50 years?

Some say that the future of folk art looks bleak. With each generation we are further and further from the original practice of folk art. What meaning can folk art hold for the sixth, seventh, or eighth generations?

Others say that the future looks bright. No matter how Norwegian you are (and even if you are not Norwegian at all) you can find enjoyment, fulfilment, and meaning in learning and practicing skills that are rooted in the past. The beauty and pleasure of creating is not dependent on a time period, an ethnicity, or a language.

“50 Years of Folk Art” is on view at Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, through April 23, 2017.  The exhibition was made possible by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts; Veronna and John Capone; Ron Hovda; and additional support.

John Skare, Bricelyn, Minnesota, in the exhibition. Handwoven rya wall hanging, 1987. “Mona took this photo of the kids and me by my rya weaving that the Vesterheim purchased in 1987.  I remember Marion Nelson relating this piece to the ryas that were placed in the bottom of the long boats.  Perhaps my heritage was creeping into my artworks without my knowledge.  I hadn’t seen this piece since 1987.  A reunion for me with one of my creations.  A bit emotional.  I like this piece.  It was created with handspun wool yarns and wool blankets scraps from the Faribault Woolen Mill.  Wool carpet mill ends where used for the weft.  The weft ends have been wrapped.  I know this artwork’s DNA quite well. An old friend with a good home, the Vesterheim.”

John Skare, Bricelyn, Minnesota, in the exhibition. Handwoven rya wall hanging, 1987. “Mona took this photo of the kids and me by my rya weaving that the Vesterheim purchased in 1987.  I remember Marion Nelson relating this piece to the ryas that were placed in the bottom of the long boats.  Perhaps my heritage was creeping into my artworks without my knowledge.  I hadn’t seen this piece since 1987.  A reunion for me with one of my creations.  A bit emotional.  I like this piece.  It was created with handspun wool yarns and wool blankets scraps from the Faribault Woolen Mill.  Wool carpet mill ends where used for the weft.  The weft ends have been wrapped.  I know this artwork’s DNA quite well. An old friend with a good home, the Vesterheim.”

Laurann Gilbertson is the Chief Curator of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and a tireless promoter of Scandinavian textiles.

November, 2016