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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

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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”].

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

 

 

 

 

Weaving on the Ceiling: A New Exhibit and Installation at the Osterøy Museum

By Marta Kløve Juuhl (translated by Robbie LaFleur)

Spring 2016: Much Planning was Underway

The idea came during a lunchroom discussion with the exhibit architect, who had done something similar in the past.

I wanted to have something that would begin on the ceiling and come down over the end wall.

The background was that the permanent exhibits at the museum were being renovated. I wanted to have more focus on traditional knowledge tied to objects in the museum; it should reflect the traditional skills and knowledge of the people of the Osterøy community. The people on Osterøy are enthusiastic and full of initiative, and there are many large and small businesses.

The monster-weaving part of the project was a collaboration among Solveig Jordan, the head of our division; Dennis Guhl, our carpentry specialist; Nikolai Rypdal Tallaksen, our archivist; Monika Sunnanå Ravnanger, my weaving student; and me, with responsibility for the textile department.

Dennis has many contacts among local businesses.  They made the steel supports and a frame to surround the weaving, according to Dennis’s instructions.

martaIt took a long time to find the straps that would act as the warp on the ceiling, and we ended up ordering from a company in the Oslo area.  They had the red color we wanted, and also green and yellow.  The straps are five centimeters wide and came in 50 meter rolls. They are straps for life vests for boats and seat belt strapping. When we ordered 25 kilometers of strapping, the supplier was quite curious about what we were going to do with it.

img_5475I started the setup after Dennis attached the steel supports to the end wall and three places on the ceiling. As it showed in the photo in the newspaper, we used scaffolding to get high enough to lift each strap over the supports. A sewing machine sat on a rolling table in the room, and I moved it each time I needed to join the straps.

It was one thing to put the straps in place, but they also needed to be pulled tight. Nikolai and I stood on scaffolding on either end to lift the straps around the steel supports, and Dennis ran back and forth on the floor and tightened.

After all the red warp straps were tightened, 66 in all, it was time for weaving. I started down on the ground, but quickly came high enough to need the scaffolding.

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The pattern we used was taken directly from an åkle (coverlet) that hung in the exhibit in the room.  Between each strap we wove two shots of plain weave with fishing line, which was thin and strong and transparent and held the straps in place. Each square in the pattern is 10 by 10 cm.  It took Monika and I about two days to weave/work in the pattern.  There is, of course, no shed in this weaving, which is why I added “work in.” Our hands were quite sore after a while.

The red color on the ceiling has a dominant effect in the exhibition hall; the monster-weave installation brings together the old and the new in the exhibit.  It illustrates the old themes, such as weaving and metalwork, in a new context.

For this installation there was a determination to work on the project together. Everyone was in on the discussion, and then it was Dennis and I who figured out how we could execute the ideas.

To make it work required a lot of mathematics and stretching out of the pattern. It’s difficult to describe how much mental effort it took; it followed me for many weeks. There were constantly small adjustments to air with the others. And it was just because we had so many contributors, that the project had such a great result.

The plan is that we will weave several motifs on the ceiling, which will last until sometime this winter.

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Note: See additional photos in an article by Snorre Bang Utaker from Bygdanytt, “Eit vevemonster har inntatt Osterøy museum,” (A Monster-weaving has Taken Over Østeroy Museum).  And if you would rather read the article in the original Norwegian, see below! 

Veven i taket: Ny utstilling og installasjon på Osterøy museum, våren 2016

Mykje planlegging.

Ideen kom i ein diskusjon på lunsjrommet saman med utstillingsarkitekt som hadde gjort noko liknande før.

Me ville gjerne ha noko i taket som kunne enda nedover på endeveggen.

Bakgrunnen var at heile den faste utstillingen vår skulle fornyast. Me ville ha meir fokus på tradisjonskunnskap knytt til samlingane på museet; det skal gjenspeila Osterøysamfunnet og dei praktiske kunnskapane og ferdigheitene folk har hatt. Her på Osterøy er det eit stort privat initiativ, mange gründerar og småbedrifter.

For å knyta dette direkte til monsterveven er det og eit samarbeid mellom Solveig, dagleg leiar, Dennis handverkaren vår, Nikolai, arkivaren vår, Monika, vevlærlingen min og meg som tekstilansvarleg.

Dennis har god kontakt med dei lokale bedriftene her. Dei laga stålstenger og ramme rundt sjølve det vovne partiet etter Dennis sine mål.

Me brukte lang tid på å finna stropper som skulle fungera som renningstrådar i taket, og enda opp med å bestilla frå eit firma i Oslo-området. Dei hadde fyrst og fremst raudfargen, men og den gule og den grøne. Stroppene er 5 cm breie, dei kom i rullar på 50 meter. Det er eigentleg stropper til redningsvestar i båt og sikkerheitsselar i bil. Då me bestilte 25 kilometer av dette, var leverandøren veldig nysgjerrig på kva me skulle bruka det til. Me starta monteringa etter at Dennis hadde festa stålstengene til endeveggene og på tre plassar oppe i taket. Som det viser på biletet i avisa brukte me gardintrapp for å koma så høgt at me kunne lyfta kvar stropp over  stålstengene.

Symaskinen stod på eit trillebord i salen, så flytte me den etter kvart som me måtte skøyta stroppene.

Ein ting var å få stroppene på plass, men dei måtte og strammast etter kvart. Då stod Nikolai og eg på stillas i kvar vår ende av den 25 meter lange salen for å lyfta stroppene rundt stålstengene, og Dennis sprang att og fram nede på golvet og stramma.

Etter at alle dei raude renningsstroppene var festa, 66 i alt, var det tid for veving, etter kvart også på stillas. Eg starta nede på golvet, men kom fort opp så høgt at eg trengde stillaset.

Mønsteret som er brukt er plukka direkte frå åkle som heng på utstilling i salen. Mellom kvar stroppe er det to innslag i lerret med fiskesnøre, det er tynt og sterkt og gjennomsiktig, og held stroppene på plass. Kvar rute i mønsteret er 10 x 10 cm. Det gjekk eit par dagar for Monika og meg å veva/fletta inn heile mønsteret. Det er sjølvsagt ikkje noko skille i denne veven. Difor skriv eg veva/fletta. Me vart faktisk ganske såre på hendene etter kvart.

Den raude renningen i taket er eit nokså dominerande innslag i utstillingssalen vår, den er som ein installasjon som bind saman det gamle og det nye i utstillingen. Den belyser gamle tema, så som veving og metallarbeid sett inn i ein ny samanheng. I tillegg kjem viljen til å gjera dette saman. Alle var med i diskusjonen, og så var det Dennis og eg som måtte tenkja ut korleis me kunne gjennomføra ideen.

Det ligg mykje matematikk bak og utrekning av mønster for å dette til å stemma, og det er vanskeleg å skriva om tankearbeidet som var nødvendig. Det fylgde meg i mange veker, det var stadig små justeringar å lufta med dei andre. Nettopp det at me var såpass mange om arbeidet gjer sitt til at det vart så vellukka.

Planen vår er at me skal veva inn fleire motiv i taket. Det vert til vinteren ein gong.

Marta Kløve Juuhl

 

Lila Nelson’s Danskbrogd

Danskbrogd/Boundweave pickup. Lila Nelson. Vesterheim: 2007.404.004

Danskbrogd/Boundweave pickup. Lila Nelson. Vesterheim: 2007.404.004

By Robbie LaFleur

Several of Lila Nelson’s pieces in danskbrogd technique are included in the retrospective of her work currently hanging in the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.  Next to this piece, hanging prominently at the beginning of the show, Curator Laurann Gilbertson wrote,

Lila felt a special connection to danskbrogd because she and Marion “discovered” the technique in a coverlet for sale in a Norwegian antique store.  The Nelsons eventually received permission from the Norwegian government in 1989 to purchase the coverlet for Vesterheim’s collection.  The coverlet inspired numerous weavings by Lila and other American weavers in several different loom threadings.

Danskbrogd, which can be translated as “Danish weave,” is known in Norway in just one area, southwest Agder County.  Old danskbrogd coverlets had a stippled look and a combination of rows of large motifs and narrow pattern bands.  The weaver picked up the designs while weaving.

This piece was also featured in the September/October, 1996, issue of Handwoven magazine.

Danskbrogd/Boundweave Pickup. Collection of Aaron Swenson.

Danskbrogd/Boundweave Pickup. Collection of Aaron Swenson.

Danskbrogd/Boundweave Pickup. Lila Nelson. Vesterheim: 2007.404.006

Danskbrogd/Boundweave Pickup. Lila Nelson. Vesterheim: 2007.404.006

For Lila, a traditional weaving technique was a language.  She could speak the language plainly and eloquently.  But then it became poetry, as she used the technique expressively and creatively.  These pieces show her moving on, making the technique her own.

Piet Mondrian would approve of this piece, completed in 1997 or 1998 as part of a study of danskbrogd and variations for Scandinavian Study Group of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. (Vesterheim collection number 2011.032.047)

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Lila wove two pieces using danskbrogd to depict northern lights. (Vesterheim collection number 2007.404.009)

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Which came first — the chicken or the egg?  (Vesterheim collection mumber 2011.032.046)

hen-with-chicks

“Neighborhood” dates from 1996-1998.  From the Vesterheim description: “For many years, Lila and Marion Nelson lived in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood in Minneapolis.  Neighbors included downtown Minneapolis (top row), I-35W and the Mississippi River (second row), blocks of Craftsman-style apartments (third row), and the University of Minnesota (fourth row). One of several works created as part of the Danskbrogd Study Group, Lila used danskbrogd on two harnesses here.  She worked some wefts separately with a needle to give a raised effect.”

(Vesterheim collection number 2007.404.003)

city

neighborhood-backThe danskbrogd technique creates long floats on the reverse side of the textile.  From the back of “Neighborhood,” you can see that Lila was not afraid of floats!

If you look carefully at the Mississippi River portion, you can see that the white water flecks are almost, but not quite, the typical diamond designs found in traditional danskbrogd coverlets.  It’s almost like an inside joke for weavers.

 

A Common Thread: Weaving Traditions of Norway and Sweden

Editor’s Note:  This article by Katherine Larson was originally published in Vesterheim, a publication of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, volume 3, number 2, 2005, and is reprinted with permission.  Read the full article in pdf version HERE.   (Note: This is a large file with photos, and may load slowly.) In addition, Vesterheim Curator Laurann Gilbertson provided photographs and information below from the labels used in the exhibit.

Monk’s Belt  (Norwegian: Tavlebragd, Swedish: Munkebälte)
The small and large squares characteristic of both Norwegian and Swedish monk’s belt coverlets were often arranged to form either cross patterns (hanging) or square grids (trunk, left). Occasionally horizontal stripes of colored wool weft were used to separate the bands of monk’s belt patterns (trunk, right). The weavers in Skåne, Sweden, frequently wove their coverlets on a dark ground (hanging), a departure from the neutral linen or cotton ground that was more common elsewhere in Sweden and in Norway.

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(Hanging: Table cover from Skåne, Sweden, Nordic Heritage Museum; Trunk left: Coverlet from Sogn, Norway, Vesterheim; Trunk right: coverlet from Nordfjord, Noway, Nordic Heritage Museum)

Tapestry (Norwegian: Billedvev)
Norwegian tapestry coverlets commonly depicted Biblical themes, such as the Adoration of the Magi. Tapestries were woven on their side to reduce the number of vertical dovetail joins required. A tapestry of this size and complexity was probably woven by a specialist that worked on a loom as broad as the finished weaving was high. (Adoration of the Magi, Norway, Vesterheim Museum)

1984.123.001asm(Swedish: Flamskväv)
The weavers in northeast Skåne were noted for coverlets that contained eight-petaled roses and the figures of men, women, birds, and horse. These coverlets, woven in the geometric tapestry technique, were executed in such fine detail that they included buttons on the men’s jackets and tiny candles. In contrast to Norwegian tapestry coverlets, which were woven while turned sideways on wide looms, these coverlet were made in two narrow sections on the smaller looms typical of home weaving. The two pieces were then sewn together to create a coverlet. The inscription at the top reads, “In the name of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Initials and date, 1857, also personalize the coverlet. (Left, below: Geometric tapestry coverlet, Skåne, Sweden, private collection)

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Three Holy King billedvev match with a Swedish weaving. Right: Geometric tapestry coverlet, Skåne, Sweden, private collection

Tapestry (Norwegian: Billedvev, Swedish: Flamskväv)
The Red Lion, a popular motif in Swedish tapestry cushion covers, was probably a simplification of earlier tapestries depicting Samson and the Lion. Norwegian and Swedish tapestry weavers often drew on Biblical these for their subject matter. The Wedding in Canaan is believed to be the inspiration for the banquet scene in this cushion cover.

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Left: cushion cover from Skåne, Sweden, private collection; Right: cushion cover, Vesterheim

Thanks to Laurann Gilbertson, Curator of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, for arranging permission to post the original article, and for providing extra information and photos from the exhibit labels.

 

A Personal Scream Series

Editor (and author) note:  This article was published in the Fall 2015 issue of the British Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, and is reprinted with permission. Read the pdf version of that article HERE.

journal coverBy Robbie LaFleur

Almost every mention of Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting, Skrik or “Scream,” is followed by a phrase along the lines of, ’one of the world’s most recognizable works of art.’

I’ve contemplated Munch’s Scream since the first time I saw one of the paintings in Norway during weaving school in the late 1970s; he had painted several versions of the Scream. My own interpretations began in 2001, during a Scream-worthy situation. I worked for the Minnesota Legislature, and the legislative session dragged on in overtime, into the summer, filled with acrimony and budget dilemmas. It seemed like a good time to weave Edvard Munch’s image of angst. I set up my tapestry loom in the living room and wove as frequently as possible, telling myself that when the tapestry was finished, the special legislative session would wrap up its work. I was right.scream-tapestry-s

A photocopy of the image, taped to a top corner of the loom, guided my color choices as I wove the background behind the figure on the bridge. The wavy lines created with a distorted, or eccentric weft, didn’t exactly match Munch’s paint strokes, but they created a similar feeling of unease. I’ve displayed the small tapestry (11in x 7in) many times during the past decade, often during a weaving demonstration. Each time at least one person asks, ‘Can I buy this?’. I could have sold it many times over, but maybe not, if I’d actually suggested a price that could make me part with it.

The tapestry was the beginning of a series, partially prompted by a friend who suggested I continue making Scream in various textile techniques. It is a great image for exploration. The painting is meaningful and powerful, yet also recognizable to the point of kitsch. It is also fun to examine for line and color, to determine how to use each textile medium to advantage.

French Knots

The French Knot Scream was an experiment in shading to achieve a photo-like quality. I chose a portion of Munch’s image and using an inkjet printer, printed it onto a sheet of fabric. I carried around the small embroidery (7in x 5in) for a whole summer, adding a few more of the approximately 9,500 knots during car trips and snatches of free time. The knots were made with two strands of embroidery floss, which made many subtle shades possible. I framed the embroidery in a substantial gold frame, which seemed to draw viewers in to figure out how it was created.

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Line Embroidery

Another summer, a line embroidery of Scream occupied my travel bag, starting, appropriately, on a trip to Norway. The face is surrounded by a phrase used by my Scottish grandmother in a letter to me when I was 21, ‘We sure have missed you, but life doesn’t hand us all our desires’ (I think Munch would agree). This has been embroidered in her handwriting. The line drawing itself, embroidered in a variegated purple silk thread, seemed dull, so I quilted the linen backing with thin batting and short, randomly-placed linen stitches. The practical part of me felt this piece should become a pillow (completed size: 15in x 13in).

scream-pillow-s

Fabric Printing

I carved a Scream linoleum-block image for textile printing. It has been well-used; many of my friends have napkins and guest towels with the image. I titled my original textile piece was “Edvard Munch Kommentarer Paa Opvask” (Edvard Munch Comments on Washing Dishes).  Five IKEA dishtowels, printed with the same screaming figure, hang from a towel bar, which portrays the title in gothic script. (total dimensions: 29in x 31in) It’s intended to be amusing, but also a comment on Munch, a serious male Expressionist painter who likely spent little time thinking about domestic arts.

kommentarers

Skinnfell

In 2010 I took a course from a Norwegian instructor, Britt Solheim, on making skinnfell (coverlets sewn of several sheepskins). In traditional skinnfell pieces, which have become popular again in Norway, the smooth side was either wood-block printed with traditional motifs or covered by a woven textile, or sometimes both, leaving secret designs underneath the fabric. After the class I created a Scream wall piece (18in x 26in) on sheepskin, incorporating the iconic image with traditional wood-block patterns. I wanted to explore the relationship, or lack thereof, between Munch’s fine art prints and the traditional folk arts of the period.

skinfell-ryaRya

The largest Scream piece (36in x 60in), a Scandinavian rya, was an experiment in weaving in a pixelated fashion. I cut the full-sized pattern into narrow strips. With each row of knots on the rya I entered bundles of yarn to match the colors along the strips. This technique did not work perfectly; after unrolling the finished piece from the loom I spent many hours with a tapestry needle, putting in some bundles and taking out others to improve the image. This piece is much larger than the original images in Munch’s paintings, and while weaving it I was surprised by my emotional reaction to the image which I had reproduced many times before. As I tied the knots of the face and hands, I worked at close range and spent many hours looking at my blown-up pattern and back at the unfolding face on the loom. To me the yarn gathered the sense of psychological unease in Munch’s painting. Would the piece be large and frightening? Once completed, however, the shaggy image was striking, but not scary.

219 Lafleure-Moore Robbie Scream no number PRThe 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch was celebrated in 2013, a fitting time to complete my textile appreciation series. Still, I might pick up the theme in the future. Could the collection be complete without a knitted Scream?

Robbie LaFleur is a weaver and librarian living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began her weaving study with a course in traditional Norwegian weaving at Valdres Husflidsskole in Fagernes, Norway, in 1977. Since that time she has studied with several Norwegian and American weavers. Among other projects, her current series is an exploration of family members, current and long past, in tapestry. You can follow her weaving activities at her blog, boundweave.wordpress.com. She is the editor of The Norwegian Textile Letter, and recently converted it to a digital publication, norwegiantextileletter.com.

cartoon1 2Postscript: The Scream series was also featured in an exhibit in the Community Gallery at the American Swedish Institute from June-September, 2015.  As well as the Scream pieces, the exhibit included Munch-related cartoons and magazine covers.  (Read more here.)

Krokbragd and More at the Summer Exhibit

The collection of weavings in the 2015 National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition was rich in color and techniques, but especially strong in krokbragd and bound rosepath.  The header photo shows a unique pair of mittens with band-woven cuffs by Kathryn Evans of Lena, Illinois.  In addition to the ribbon-winning entries, these pieces were on display.

Gay Dudley Allan. Iowa City, IA. “Raspberry Pie,” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd Technique.

Gay Dudley Allan. Iowa City, IA. “Raspberry Pie,” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd Technique.

Jan Mostrom

Jan Mostrom, Gold Medalist. Chanhassen, MN. “Dancing Skies,” Wall Hanging in Rya Technique

Rosemary Roehl

Rosemary Roehl, Gold Medalist. St. Cloud, MN.
“Playing with Red,” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd and Rosebragd Techniques.

Rosemary Roehl

Rosemary Roehl, Gold Medalist. St. Cloud, MN. “Northern Lights,” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd and Rosebragd Techniques.

Robbie LaFleur

Robbie LaFleur, Gold Medalist. Minneapolis, MN.
“Bands of Summer,” Rug in Bound Rosepath Technique.

Connie Rubsamen

Connie Rubsamen. Long Beach, CA. Guitar Strap in Bandweave Pick-up Technique.

Sandra Moe

Sandra Moe. La Crosse, WI.
Wall Hanging in Vestfoldsmett Technique.

Melba Granlund

Melba Granlund. Minneapolis, MN.
“Julefest” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd Technique.

Mary Glock

Mary Glock. Decorah, IA.
“Apple Tree All Year,” Wall Hanging in Krokbragd Technique.

Melissa Brown, Guttenberg, IA. “Ode to Betty Nelson, ” Table Runner in Overshot Technique.

Melissa Brown, Guttenberg, IA. “Ode to Betty Nelson, ” Table Runner in Overshot Technique.

Kathryn Evans, Lena, IL. Mittens with Tablet-woven Cuffs.

Kathryn Evans, Lena, IL. Mittens with Tablet-woven Cuffs.

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