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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.

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.

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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).

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.

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.

french-embroidery2

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.)

Lila Nelson Celebration: Wendy Stevens

I first saw Albert the Alligator at the 2005 Midwest Weavers Conference at Lakeland College near Sheboygan, WI. Lila had entered him in the individual member exhibit, and although this tapestry did not receive a ribbon, it was totally Lila—a billedvev done to perfection of this rather endearing “monster”inspired by Albert the Alligator, a real alligator who made his annual appearance at the Minnesota State Fair and was known to sit on his trainer’s lap reading a book, so Lila told me. In the tapestry Lila had added a number of whimsical characteristics to Albert such as a little fire breathing and plaque on his teeth—Lila was especially fond of the plaque she had put on Albert’s teeth. She initially felt that having Albert displayed in a dental office would have been perfect.

Albert-fixed

I asked Lila if she would consider selling “him”, but she told me Albert wasn’t ready to leave home yet. Furthermore, she was at a point in her life where she was not going to sell him, but barter a trade.   And what kinds of trades had she previously made? The most recent had been for a catered dinner party at her home for good-sized group—the number 24 guests is in my head—that may not be accurate, but it was a large group. It seemed way out of my ability to come up with an appropriate trade for Albert. I had taken a billedvev tapestry course from Lila at Vesterheim, and I was well aware of how much time and skill went into Albert not to mention the cost of the materials.

A couple of months later, Lila emailed me saying that she was coming to Decorah for the Norwegian Textile Conference and she would bring Albert with her. Was I still willing to barter? You bet! I emailed back a list of possibilities, and during the conference Lila and her good friend Marianne Vigander came to our house for an evening waffle supper so they could try some of our maple syrup and raspberry sauce.

My husband and I live in an old log house in a wooded valley and have always enjoyed gardening and I guess you would say “homesteading activities”. So my portion of the barter was for items that we produced in our valley. The final trade: 4 quarts of maple syrup, 1 pint of honey, 1 pint of raspberry sauce, 2 cups of granola, 1 cup of dried morels, 4 one-pound packages of frozen venison, 2 loaves of homemade bread, 1 packet of basil pesto, 3 containers of homemade cookies, 1 decorative gourd, 1 butternut squash, 3 onions, 2 pounds of carrots, and 10 potatoes. I also sent Lila and Marianne back to the hotel with waffles and syrup for breakfast the next day.

From later conversation I think that Lila was quite pleased with our trade. I certainly was. Whenever I look at Albert hanging on our wall, I think of a most kind, generous, dedicated, creative and amazing woman, Lila Nelson. May we all follow in her footsteps.

Wendy Stevens is a long-time friend of Lila’s and a member of the Oneota Weavers Guild.

Editor’s Note, and Some Tapestries to Visit in Norway

This post brings apologies from your editor.  Completing an interim position at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota plus other consultant work, and then family obligations, stalled the rewarding job of publishing the new issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter.  However, there was one saving grace – the money I earned is earmarked for a trip to Norway in August. (Plus it was a fabulous experience.)

The keynote article of this issue, “Petrine’s Quilt: A Remembrance from America,” will please mystery fans, as Katherine Larson follows the threads of a story about a crazy quilt acquired by a northern Norway museum and the immigrant woman who stitched her family names.  Follow along with Kay in her quest (and be inspired to document some of your own significant textiles, to help those in future generations).

As evidence of the continuing passion for rya in Minnesota,  “Rya – The Adventure Continues!” describes Jan Mostrom’s most recent rya class offered at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.  This time the featured technique was weaving a rya with hidden knots on a base of houndstooth, inspired from an artifact from the from Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  The students in Jan’s class came up with very creative pieces.

rya21-225x300Also, you might be interested in reading about a student from Jan Mostrom’s rya class last summer, who turned into a teacher for her friend with Sami background.  Read: “Rya Exploration: A Class, A Student, a Student Teacher” on the Weavers Guild of Minnesota website.

A detail from Annika Ekdahl's "Follow Me" Facebook site

A detail from Annika Ekdahl’s “Follow Me” Facebook site

Though my summer trip to Norway will be mainly to show the beauty of the country to my husband  who has never visited, it will include two important textile detours.  First, Swedish tapestry artist Annika Ekdahl recently finished two large tapestries on display at the Andrea Arntzen’s Hus at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.  Amazing!  I’ve been following the progress of the tapestries on the Facebook site she created to mark the progress.  It’s worth reading through all of the posts she wrote during this epic weaving project.  Also, watch this video.

"Høisommer," (High Summer), one of four tapestries deposited in the Stavanger Art Museum by SpareBank.

“Høisommer,” (High Summer), one of four tapestries deposited in the Stavanger Art Museum by SpareBank.

Second, this summer a retrospective of Frida Hansen’s tapestries will be shown at the Stavanger Art Museum. There was an interesting article in the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenbladet, “Nå skal Frida Hansen hedres” (Now Frida Hansen will be Honored).  You should follow the link to see the accompanying photos, but I’ve translated the text below.  I think it would be amazing if a Norwegian Textile Letter reader actually turned up a missing Frida Hansen tapestry!  Have you seen one?

Next year Stavanger and Rogaland’s most internationally-recognized artist will be celebrated with a major exhibition in Stavanger’s art museum.  The textile artist Frida Hansen had her international breakthrough at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900, where she received the Gold Medal.

Her textile works were purchased by several arts and crafts museums in Europe, for which the Stavanger Art Museum can be thankful today.  Many of the works in the upcoming exhibit are borrowed from these museums in Norway and Europe.  Our regional art museum owns none of her works, but has deposited four pieces that the Norwegian SpareBank purchased.

Where are they now?

Several important weavings by Frida Hansen have disappeared, some in Europe and the United States, and some in Norway, maybe even in Stavanger.  And there may be others, unknown works by her hanging in private homes, notes Inger M. Gudmonson, the conservator with Stavanger Art Museum and one of the two curators for the upcoming exhibition.  “De Fem Kloge or de Fem Daarlige Jomfruer” (“The Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins”) is one of the works that everyone thought has disappeared, but which perhaps still exists somewhere.  The weaving is dated 1900 and was displayed at the World’s Fair in Paris.  It was also displayed in Glasgow, Florence and Stocklholm.  It was sold in Florence, but disappeared during the First World War.

“Sørover” (“Southward”) from 1903 was exhibited several places in the United States, and was purchased by Mrs. Berthe Aske-Bergh.  The current owner is unknown.  “Svinedrengen” (“The Swineherd”) was accepted by the salon in Paris in 1909, and sold from an exhibition in Berlin the year after.  “Frieriet” (“The Wooing”) was displayed and sold in Oslo in 1903; it’s owner is unknown.

Bankruptcy

Frida Hansen dreamed of becoming an artist, but had to drop her plans when she married the wealthy Wilhelm Severin Hansen.  When her husband went bankrupt they lost two large businesses and a model farm in Hillevåg.  Not long after Frida Hansen began an embroidery business in Stavanger and discovered old Norwegian coverlets.  In 1892, nine years after the big collapse, the family moved to Kristiania (Oslo) and Frida Hansen established a weaving and dyeing business in Tullinløkka. She had many employees, but participated in the operations.  She patented the techniques she developed.

Forgotten for many years

Frida Hansen was famous and successful as a textile artist, but was more or less forgotten until the 1970s. Gudmonson believes this was because interest in Art Noveau died out.  Frida Hansen’s work places her in the direction that was popular around 1900.  But not long after her work was considered both tasteless and excessive for years.  When interest in Art Nouveau revived around 1950-60, so did interest in Frida Hansen’s works.

Another reason for a lack of interest in Frida Hansen, Gudmonsen explained, was that she was too internationally-oriented.  Norwegian arts and crafts museums preferred works that referenced Norse mythology or Norwegian folk tales.  Therefore they chose Gerhard Munthe and not Frida Hansen.

Art Historian Anniken Thue is the advisor for the two curators who are working with the upcoming exhibition at the Stavanger Art Museum.  She wrote a book on Frida Hansen in 1986, building on her master’s thesis in 1973.

This year the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet)  in Oslo created a traveling exhibit, shown also at the Stavanger Kunstforening and the Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum i Bergen.  It had been over one hundred years since Frida Hansen’s art was displayed in a large exhibit in Norway.