By Robbie LaFleur and Laurann Gilbertson
The 2017 Textile Tour sponsored by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in June was the first one to add travel to Denmark as well as Norwegian destinations. This brief overview should give you an idea of why these tours sell out as soon as they are announced.
Copenhagen was our first stop, and our learning and inspiration began with a visit to Christiansborg Palace, the only government building in the world that houses all three branches of a country’s government. We toured the Royal Reception Rooms to get an overview of 1,100 years of Danish history through tapestries designed by Bjørn Nørgaard. The tapestries depict scenes from Viking times to today and were presented to Queen Margrethe II for her fiftieth birthday in 1990. The guide planned to visit other rooms, but the weavers in the group, in particular, were entranced by observing the tapestries and reading about the historical events depicted in them. Laurann asked the guide, “Is it OK if we just stay here instead?”
Lapidarium of Kings. Frederick V, King of Denmark-Norway, commissioned life-sized statues of Norwegian and Faroese farmers and fishermen for his palace grounds. Completed in about 1773, the figures from Nordmandsdalen (Valley of the Norsemen) are used today by researchers to understand the clothing worn in rural Norway in the past.
The number of tour participants is small enough that we can take advantage of visiting artist studios and sights that would’t be possible for huge groups. Our group divided in two for a visit to Knitwear Designer Geske Svensson. Read about that experience in the article by Marilyn Huset.
Our stay in Copenhagen was short, and we headed off to visit Greve Museum to learn about Hedebosom. Some even took a mini-course. Read Edi Torstensson’s account of the museum in a separate article, here.
Through gorgeous, trim countryside (and once having to change course because the bus was too big for the road), we reached Sagnlandet Lejre. Solving Pollei wrote about the experience, here.
Heading across country, we stopped at the High School for Design and Handwork in Skals for their annual summer exhibition and market, with fabulous exhibits of student work in weaving, clothing design, embroidery, hand- and machine-knitting, leather work, and ceramics. In tents in the sunny courtyard outside the school, leading Danish designers sold their work. Molly Miles was struck by beautiful embroidered towels with hearts, and Ingebjørg Monsen loved a cleverly embroidered coat. She commented, “So happy young people take embroidery to a new level, but the quality prevails!”
Our final stop in Denmark was at Hørvævmuseet, a linen weaving museum in the heart of Denmark. The museum is staffed by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the collection of jacquard looms, with educating visitors about the processing of flax to linen, and the history of linen production in Denmark. This stop was a highlight of Elizabeth Hunter’s tour, and she described our guides as “a couple who are the oldest and most charming hosts ever!” The museum is housed in a former cowshed of a large estate. The looms and equipment, from a linen mill that closed in 1972, sat unused for 33 years until it gained new life. And after our group left, the gift shop staff had some serious re-stocking to do.
After the Linen Museum we traveled by ferry over the Skagerrak, the strait between Denmark and Norway. The food was great on the boat, but the crashing, bumpy waves made the ride one that several of our group would like to forget.
On a sunny Sunday morning the group traveled by rowboat ferry out to Bragdøy, an island outside of Kristiansand, for a lecture and class with Annemor Sundbø. Annemor was awarded the King’s Medal of Merit in 2013 for her work to research, share, and preserve Norway’s knitting history. Her latest book is on the native short-tailed spelsau sheep. After giving a talk about the spelsau in folk belief, art, and everyday tradition, she gave a short class on knitting right from the sheep; in other words, the students sat in front of a giant pile of fleece and pulled strands into instant yarn and knitted it up. This day was a highlight for Linda Devitt, who later translated her memories to a painting of sheep (above), which she gave to her tour roommate, Carole Johnson.
We visited the Kristiansand Museum learn about regional textile traditions, including danskbrogd, a boundweave variation done only in Norway. When we toured the historic buildings moved in from rural Vest-Agder County the guide did her best to pull out all of the textiles, since she knew we were interested.
We visited Sjølingstad Uldvarefabrikk in Mandal, a working textile mill museum that interprets the history of commercial spinning, dyeing, and weaving.
In the village of Moi, which for years has been a center for the production of spinning wheels, we learned about spinning and the special Moi-style wheel at Lund Bygdemuseum.
After a drive with breathtaking scenery of the Jøssingfjord, we stopped for lunch in Sogndalstrand. This tiny seaport village is the only place in Norway where old wooden buildings and the surrounding landscape are protected as a cultural heritage site. The food was amazing at the Sogndalstrand Hotel.
In Stavanger we concentrated on Frida Hansen (1855-1931), a tapestry weaver who captured the essence of both Norway’s nationalistic movement and Art Nouveau style in her tapestries, including her patented transparent tapestries. We toured her house to learn more about her life, then continued on to Stavanger Kunstmuseum to learn more about her work. Elizabeth Hunter loved the lecture in the gallery with Frida Hansen’s work. ” It was brief, but so insightful!!” Elizabeth is following up now, by reading Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875-1918.
We traveled on an often ocean-side route to Bergen, and the group appreciated the fact that our bus driver, when faced with the choice of two roads, always opted for the more scenic route. In Bergen, our first stop was USF (United Sardine Factory), home to 200 artists, musicians, dancers, architects, and filmmakers, as well as offices for cultural organizations and performance spaces. We met several artists in their studios, including Kari Aasen, Åse Ljones, Sissel Blystad, and Kari Myrdal. A favorite of many was the artist Marta Nerhus, who crafted life-sized flat figures in metal wire.
North of Bergen, we visited the Osterøy Museum. Our group arrived at a good time; the Museum recently set up a beautiful new permanent exhibition featuring local craft traditions, including warp-weighted loom weaving, knitting, and beadwork. Marta Kløve Juuhl shared her current project, a 91-foot weaving in the museum’s main exhibit hall, one that was described in previous issues of the Norwegian Textile Letter (here and here). It stretches over a whole wall and down the long, tall room. And aren’t visits even better with food? We enjoyed coffee and a local treat, stompekake.
It would be interesting to know how many projects are completed by tour participants after a tour, based on inspiration from pieces seen in museums and shops and studios along the way. Martha Schumann wrote, “Even though my favorite hobby is knitting, I only took one picture of a knitted item – a mitten at the Osterøy Museum. It has a flame colorway in the patterning instead of being knit in two colors. As soon as I saw it, I knew would like to copy it, so I took a picture.”
Oleana sweaters are renowned in Norway and the U.S. In business since 1992, Oleana A/S is the only knitwear factory that knits and sews all their products in Norway. Combining art, culture, and good design, Oleana creates sweaters of fine wool and silk from Solveig Hisdal’s award-winning designs. The group toured the factory and explored the outlet store.
The farewell dinner was prepared by chef Ingvild Bøge of Spisekroken i Bergen, who uses local products to create rustic food with a contemporary twist. If you travel to Bergen, you should eat there.
Carol Johnson wrote that the highlight of the tour for her was the people. From her comment, you can see that her enjoyment of the trip began in the airport!
The highlight of Vesterheim’s Textile Tour for me was the people. There was the buzz in the MSP gate area as travelers checked in with Laurann, greeted old friends and got acquainted with new ones. Arriving in Copenhagen, we were met with hugs from IngebjØrg and met more tour members who had flown directly there. During meals and breaks, stories were shared on a variety of topics. One learns that the spectrum of textile interest within the group ranges from awesome textile experts, some internationally known, to those of us who are merely textile spectators. It was energizing to meet textile designers, curators at small local museums and volunteers and staffs at small textile mills, all passionate about keeping traditional techniques alive, sometimes in new formats.
Who planned this fabulous trip for us?
Tour Leader Laurann Gilbertson has been Textile Curator for 19 years and is now Chief Curator at Vesterheim. She holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.S. in textiles and clothing from Iowa State University. She cares for the museum’s collections, curates exhibitions, and has planned and led seven textile study tours to Norway (with Sweden, Iceland, and Finland).
Tour Guide Ingebjørg Monsen is an electrical engineer, but is enjoying a second career in textiles. She teaches classes in weaving and sewing and specializes in constructing men’s bunader (national costumes). She has been president of the Bergen Husflidslag (handcraft association) and has planned and led them on tours in Norway, Iceland, and Denmark. Ingebjørg has offered textile instruction, interesting tour information, and lots of fun on Vesterheim’s seven previous textile tours.