Geske Svensson Designs Inspired Vesterheim Tour Group

By Marilyn J. Huset

The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum’s textile tour’s second day inspired our imaginations from the get go. Danish knitwear designer and creator Geske Svensson welcomed us to her studio and home on June 15th to show us her creations and describe her creative process. Svensson finds inspiration for her unique creations in historic garments and has a collection of books that she goes to for ideas. She then translates her design into fabric with her computer-aided Brother knitting machine. Pieces cut from the fabric are joined together using a crochet machine.

The vibrantly red-haired Svensson modeled a number of her jackets for us. She loves stripes and black and white, as we could see from the collection. She strives to create flattering shapes in her garments that are made of merino wool. In addition to the jackets, she also creates one-of-a-kind garments for exhibitions, again inspired by historic garments. We viewed the piece she calls “Femme Fatale” (see photo above) that was conceived for a 2004 exhibition. The collar of its tan sleeveless jacket was inspired by the style of Queen Elizabeth I and is held up by strips of nitrile cord that are also part of the design elements. The black skirt is knitted in an open stitch. Both are made of linen yarn.

Svensson’s creations are sold at the museum shop at the National Museum of Denmark, shops in Denmark and Canada, and at the museum shop of the British Museum in London. She doesn’t produce new designs each year, but still produces previously designed jackets.Svensson lives and works in an historic building. The Harboe Home for widowed women was built in 1754-60 in Copenhagen with funds willed by Privy Councillor Christine Harboe. The childless Harboe was touched by the plight of upper class women who were left in dire straits when their husbands died and they, by the law of the time, could not inherit property. Today the building offers apartments to women over age 45 for a reasonable rent.

She met with us in a conference room available to residents and then took us into her living space to show us her studio. A bright and sunny space, the studio contained shelves stocked with yarns and was dominated by her knitting and crochet machines.To learn more about Geske Svensson and her designs, visit her website. Perhaps her creations will inspire you as they did the Vesterheim group.

Marilyn Huset is the treasurer of the Center for Knit and Crochet, an online museum created to preserve and promote the art, craft, and scholarship of knitting, crochet, and related arts.


Sissel Calmeyer: In Memory of a Norwegian Textile Artist

By Ingebjørg Monsen
Sissel Calmeyer

Sissel Calmeyer was friendly, thorough, hard-working, and modest. Here she is in her studio on February 19, 2010, in the photo she approved for this article.

In January 2010 I visited Sissel´s studio to seek information for this article. She was busy finishing the restoration of one of her early works, I parken (In the Park), first finished as part of a 1972 exhibition “Bellevue, Bellevue” in Oslo Kunstforening (Oslo Society of Art). On this occasion a group of Bergen-based textile artists displayed their textile art with one goal only: to make a difference – which they did!

The exhibition was a break with habit and tradition in textile art.  They wanted to take textile art from the “Scandinavian home” into the art scene of society.

rag-rug-w-centerThis tapestry is framed by a rag rug in different brown-greyish colors, leading your eyes to the central motif made in wool and linen in a gobelin weft-faced tradition.

Maybe this symbolizes everyday life (rag rug), and possibly a different world including a green planet leading through layers and layers of pink/white  curtains to a beautiful dreamlike landscape?


Detail of the tapestry I parken (In the Park)

Sissel finished the work and this was to be her last commission.  The cycle was completed.  She died peacefully in September 2012. The tapestry  is on display on Ortun Skole in Bergen, Norway.

But in between…. where did it all start? Sissel was born on the 10th of May in 1941 in Rjukan, Telemark, Norway.  Her education was at the National College of Art and Design, Oslo (1960-64,  Diploma), and the Bergen College of Arts and Crafts, Bergen (1964-65, Design).  Her education was in the relatively recent Norwegian tapestry tradition and the Bauhaus tradition of art and design, among others, with a strong focus on art and craftsmanship.

The group behind ”Bellevue, Bellevue” had Galleri Finnegården in Bergen as their main scene for a short period at the start of their career, and they had their studios close by in the old buildings at Bryggen from 1968 onwards.  Later some of these artists, including Sissel, moved their workshops to USF Verftet (1985).

She was always seeking new knowledge based on existing knowledge.  In one of our previous meetings she told me about her fascination with spinning!

For one whole year she concentrated on this craft, tracking all different types of spinning equipment all over the world, and learning to use some of them from local specialists, hands on. Then she practiced to improve her skills and enhance her performance.  This tells us a lot about her attitude towards knowledge, information and håndbåren kunnskap, the knowledge of our hands.  She knew no shortcuts or easy ways.


She must have been content with this damask textile, The Cat, as she kept it on display in her studio

She taught for approximately 10 years at Bergen Kunst- og Håndtverkskole (Bergen Art and Handcraft School).  At the same time she was experimenting on different aspects of warp and weft, and two and more layers (double-weave and more) held together in advanced structures. Above is one of her damask samples (she loved her cats!).  Then came the pleating period, and then the felting and cutting period, all resulting in wonderful textiles giving new dimensions to the experience of textiles. She had a special focus on details, always. Her colors changed from strong vibrant colors via natural white; then white, black and red; and finally back to more subtle colors.


Sissel arranging “Humle Flowers” for Norwegian Textile Letter readers in 2010

In 1988 she received a guaranteed income grant from the Norwegian State, which gave her more time to experiment and make scaled-up artworks.   She had both a critical and a humorous eye concerning society and life.  This surfaced in different ways in her art works, for instance she depicted the head of a tiger looking down at his hide spread as a carpet on the floor.   Her works were often three-dimensional and sculptural, with advanced weaving techniques enhancing the expression.


2013 Høstutstillingen, Oslo: Utsikt fra Luftskipet Norge II (View from the Norway Airship), 1973

This tapestry was made in the year between the referendum on European Economic Community membership and the Kunstnerakjson -74 (Artist Action -74).  Her artistic comments are maybe as valid today.

She also had a strong feeling for Norwegian textile heritage: tablecloths, towels, woolen coverlets and blankets and other everyday textiles. She used the materials and techniques, and lifted them with splendor into the artistic hemisphere, never losing touch with their roots.


From Sissel´s studio, 2010. Details in focus! Back to the roots! The look-a-like of a bridal head-cloth (right) & pleated skirt (left)

Premier (awards & grants) for Sissel Calmeyer 

  • Bergen bys stipend, 1976  (City of Bergen Grant)
  • Kultur- og vitenskapsdepartementets vikarstipend, 1983  (Norwegian Culture and science Department temporary scholarship)
  • Hordaland fylkes stipend, 1983 (Hordaland County grant)
  • Statens reise- eller studiestipend, 1985 (Norwegian State travel and study grant)
  • Statens garantiinntekt for kunstnere, 1988  (Norwegian State guaranteed income grant)
  • Kulturdepartementets utstillingsstipend, 1995 (Norwegian Culture department Exhibition grant)

Artwork Innkjøpt (Purchased by):

  • Ortun skole, Bergen
  • Bergen.Husflid skole/Bergen Husmor skole, Bergen, 1978  (Tekstilt teppe v/Sissel Calmeyer & Sissel Blystad)
  • VKI Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum, Bergen, 1978
  • Selskapet Kunst på Arbeidsplassen, Bergen Kommune
  • Norsk Kulturråd
  • Norges Bank
  • Sogn og Fjordane fylke
  • … and more

Artwork Utstilt (Exhibited at):

  • Vestlandsutstillingen (Annual exhibition of western Norway) , 1970, 1972, 1977, 1980
  • Norsk vevkunst i det 20.årh (Norwegian contemporary weaving in the 20th century), Sonja Henies og Niels Onstads Stiftelser, 1970
  • “Bellevue, Bellevue” Bergenskunstnere (Bergen based artists), Oslo Kunstforening, 1972
  • Lær å se (Learning to see), Unge Kunstneres Samfunn, 1973
  • Nordisk tekstiluttrykk (Nordic textile expressions), Anger, France, 1973
  • Tendenser (Tendencies), Galleri F15, Moss, 1975
  • Unge Kunstneres Samfunn tekstilgruppe (Young artists society textilegroup), Stavanger Kunstforening, 1975
  • Samliv (Relationship), Bergens Kunstforening, 1977
  • Kunst og Kunstnere (Art and artists)  Bergen, VKI Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum, 1978
  • Høstutstillingen (Annual autumn art exhibition of Norway), Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, 1981
  • Tekstil (Textiles), (Anne Sæland, Sissel Blystad og Sissel Calmeyer) , Bergen Kunsthall, 1996
  • Tekstilobjekter (Textile objects), Sissel Calmeyer at USF Verftet, Bergen, 2000
  • Juleutstilling: Sissel Calmeyer, tekstil; Åsne Slaattelid, akvarell; Sveinung Iversen & Magne Vangsnes, grafikk. Galleri Voss, 2005
  • Høstutstilling (Annual autumn art exhibition of Norway), Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, 2013



A Studio Visit: Grete Bodøgaard

By Robbie LaFleur

Creative energy flows through Grete Bodøgaard and into her tapestries, her teaching, and her life.

It flows from the farm fields and towns of South Dakota, as she travels to teach weaving to children, correctional facility inmates, and others through the South Dakota Humanities Commission.

It flows from her home and studio in the former bank and library of Volin, South Dakota, a tiny town tucked in the farm fields of southeastern South Dakota.

It flows from her childhood home above the Arctic Circle in Bodø, Norway, a mere 4,033 miles away.

It flows from her looms.

One of Grete’s first comments during my interview visit to her studio was unsurprising. “I have restless feet,” she said, commenting on the fact that she is rarely at home, especially in the summer.  Her car was packed for travel to Moon Rain, north of Ottowa, Canada, to lead a two-day workshop on natural plant dyeing.

Grete lives and works in a converted bank in Volin, South Dakota. At every turn you see an artifact or art work, or a wall of visitors’ signatures, a myriad of cookbooks, or antique furniture and textiles from Norway.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Oh, and weaving!  This tapestry was woven from a poem by her (second) husband, the filmmaker and poet Charles Nauman, who wrote it when they were living on a buffalo ranch in the Black Hills.  They hiked the prairie often and found a ring of teepee stones in which the opening faced east. Grete reminisced,  “For one year, 1999, while we lived on the ranch, Chuck wrote a poem each day and I wove a small tapestry each day. It was a very creative and productive year.”


Tapestry sitting on a chair from Norway (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

A more recent tapestry also touches on a South Dakota story. In this photo taken at a Sioux Falls gallery, the story of “Her Nest (A very small bird / has made her home / in a buffalo skull / a very small bird) is woven with digital symbols.”


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The corner location of this tapestry, appropriately in their bedroom, precluded a better photo.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The bank building also used to house the town library in a long, narrow room along the front.  It is now Grete’s studio, and the bookshelves hold yards of books and yarn.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The shelves face a space packed tight with looms. Look up to the high ceilings and you see spinning wheels, hauled from Norway as airplane carry-ons by her parents, and a treasured wool “beach bag” that her grandmother made and lined with plastic.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Bodøgaard’s path from Bodø to South Dakota included stops to study weaving in Norway and Denmark, and an apprenticeship in weaving and dyeing in London.  While studying historical archaeological textiles in Denmark, Grete traveled to Hamburg. She viewed Bronze Age textiles; that was planned.  She had a love-at-first-sight experience with a professor from South Dakota; that was unexpected.

When Sam Heikes showed up in Denmark six months later with a marriage proposal, she accepted his hand, and a life adventure.  She was a modern-day immigrant to the Midwest, following generations of Scandinavians.  Her mother-in-law and her husband’s grandmother still spoke Norwegian.

Grete moved to South Dakota along with her eight-harness Glimåkra loom. Her mother insisted she needed it so she wouldn’t forget what she was supposed to be doing.

Together with the wife of an art professor at the University of South Dakota, Grete developed and taught a class in textiles. When she became pregnant in 1970, an administrator informed her they “can’t have people who show,” and the class came to an end.  As a progressive Norwegian, Grete thought, “Where am I?”

She was happy to raise children and sheep, along with her weaving, in the next few years. Her first commission, appropriately enough, was from the North Central Wool Marketing Association.  Her tapestry weaving career was given a jump start when the Minneapolis Tribune published a photo essay about her work in their Picture supplement in 1976.  (You can read “A Weaver: From Norway to the Prairie; included with permission, best copy available.) As a result of the attention, her commissions increased and she took on apprentices from the U.S. and abroad.

IMG_1122Her work in tapestry over the years has been influenced by what she looks at and what she reads, and what she remembers. When immersed in a project, she can work eight to ten hours a day.  “I’m a fanatic.  I get so much energy from my work,” she said. One of her large commissions was a tapestry of a painting, “Indian Christ,” by the noted American Indian artist Oscar Howe.  It is seven feet by ten feet, six inches, and hangs above the altar in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

indian Christ: O.Howe

Newspaper photo supplied by the artist

Another news article shows the glorious scale of three commissioned weavings.

Dakota Seasons, 1980 G. Bodogaard, text 1At one point, South Dakota almost lost this talented weaver. “When Bush was elected, we moved back to Norway.” She and her second husband moved into the house where she grew up, in a group of buildings mostly constructed in the late 15th century for Danish government officials, and also including a church built in 1275.  The area was settled even earlier.  A spindle stone made of soapstone from Viking times was discovered under the house, and is now in Grete’s studio.  Their house looked out over a creek; the ocean was a five minute walk away.  What could trump this lovely situation?  Her daughter announced she was pregnant.


Grete Bodogaard holds a drop spindle made with Viking era soapstone (Photo: Robbie LaFleur

Though Grete moved back to South Dakota, her trips to Norway are frequent and her ties to Norway are strong.  An upcoming exhibit in Bodø will include works from Grete and from another transplanted Norwegian artist working in Seattle, printmaker Eva Isaksen. The exhibit, “Light and Dark in the North,” is a result of the need for the two artists from Bodø to “go home,” both in their works and physically.

Details for weavers

Grete Bodøgaard weaves primarily on a two-meter wide Glimåkra tapestry loom. “It’s solid to work on,” Grete said.  She prefers an upright loom for tapestry because it is difficult to get perspective when looking down at a floor loom. A second old tapestry loom was found by chance.  Grete’s sister-in-law purchased a house owned by two tapestry weavers, who left their looms. She uses primarily Norwegian yarns, and stocks up each time she visits Norway. In the U.S. she buys through Norsk Fjord Fiber.

Grete studied with Maria Brekke Koppen for one year in Oslo.  Koppen was an exacting teacher, but one who encouraged personal exploration.  On the one hand you should follow directions, Koppen emphasized, but you have to figure out your own way of doing.  Generations of tapestry weavers have studied from her textbook, Norwegian Tapestry Weaving, and Grete’s studio copy is well-worn.  You’ll find many of the Norwegian joining techniques described in the book in Grete’s tapestries. She explained succinctly, “I don’t like to sew things up.”

Grete has been inspired by many Norwegian artists, including the contemporary artist and tapestry designer Jan Groth.  “There are so many wonderful weavers in Norway,” Grete said, “There are no rules.”

Of Synnove Anker Aurdal she noted, “It was a total enlightenment to hear her talk.  I loved her creativity. She was very elegant.” (Though there is not much online on Aurdal in English, see wonderful images at this Facebook site and the Absolute Tapestry site.)

The first time she saw a weaving by Frida Hansen was at a museum in Hamburg.  Although Hansen was a prominent European artist in the early part of the 20th century, at the time Grete was studying, Hansen wasn’t studied or accepted in her home country of Norway.

Grete was influenced early on by Hannah Ryggen’s tapestries, which she saw as a child.  Ryggen lived not far from Grete’s grandmother.  Ryggen never learned to draw, Grete commented, yet the power of her images was strong.

More background on Grete Bodøgaard:

Robbie LaFleur weaves in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the editor of the Norwegian Textile Letter.

lafleur1801 (at)