Lila Nelson’s Celebration: Carol Colburn and Norwegian Friends

I have some words remembering Lila that I have been asked to share with you, sent to me from two Norwegian friends and colleagues, and from my daughter. The first is from Kari-Anne Pedersen, Curator of Textiles at Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo. She refers at first to our recent loss of two great women of textiles, as the former and long-time curator at Norsk Folkemuseum, Aagot Noss, died in Oslo in April of this year at age 90. Lila knew Aagot Noss well, and they were in many ways kindred spirits in their textile interests and world view –

Yes, it is very sad that two such wonderful women have passed away. I remember Lila as such a positive warm person from my visit at Vesterheim. The work she has done has been so important, keeping weaving skills alive is intangible heritage in practice. You must send on my greetings when you meet on the 25th.

Ingebjørg Vaagen is a Norwegian master weaver, tapestry artist, teacher and an ambassador to Norway’s heritage in fine craft. Many American weavers have met Ingebjørg through Vesterheim programs both in the U.S. and Norway. I wrote to her in the first days after Lila died. This is what she said so concisely –

What sad news to receive. She was one of those persons that should have gone on forever, she was so much for so many! I am very happy to have had the great pleasure to have met her and have shared her spirit and her great knowledge as well as her humor as well as her high morals for political matters.

It is good to hear that she had attended the book launch event and at that time was fit enough for that, and really lived her life and interests to the end. Thank you for the attached Textile Newsletter; good to see her tapestries.

I am a lucky owner of one that she gave to me when she came the last time. I am most thankful that I met her, worked with her, laughed with her, and smiled with her when I got her political newsletters. She made me believe in healthy American visions and politics…SHE WAS A GREAT LADY!!!!

My own memories span about 40 years and are first closely tied to her work at Vesterheim:

I first met Lila in the mid-1970s at Vesterheim museum. I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in art history and was a new convert to studying folk arts in Marion Nelson’s Scandinavian Folk Arts class, which to my surprise included the area of textiles. At the end of an exam, he asked the question – “What do you want to do with your life?” Having recently stumbled upon the field of historic textiles and textile conservation, I wrote on the bottom of the page, “I want to save the world’s textiles.” He immediately sent me to Lila so that we could team up on this formidable task – and we did; by first tackling the washing of some of the largest textiles in the collection: the coverlets and the large room-sized sail of the Tradewinds ship owned by Vesterheim.

As an intern living close to the museum and working long days with Lila, those months were my most memorable exposure to the dedication, professional inquiry, stimulating curiosity and joyful delight that we probably all experienced when in the presence of Lila. After that initial internship, I kept returning to Vesterheim. I explored the collection, benefiting from Lila’s insight into both flat textiles and the collection of Norwegian-American clothing – which became my area of special interest.

Throughout her years of curatorial work, research, and hands-on textile work, Lila stayed involved and current with questions of Norwegian and Norwegian-American immigrant textiles and dress. Researchers sought her out from local, regional, national, and international perspectives. Throughout about 40 years she continued to inspire my work on research projects – exploring questions posed by the collection at Vesterheim and the greater world. She was always so generous and helpful in suggesting resources, insightfully reading research drafts, and pointing out new avenues of research to further this fascinating field of study. Because of all of her care of the collection and its documentation, her deep understanding and insight has been an inspiration to textile historians and researchers, as well as to her colleagues who are artists and artisans.

In the museum Lila’s legacy, handed over to and built upon by Laurann Gilbertson as current textile curator, will continue to be a tremendous resource for generations into the future. It has been the philosophy at the museum to make the collection available for everyone to use for inspiration and to study.

Another great time when Lila became very much a part of my life was the first Vadmel weaving workshop at Vesaas Farm in Telemark. It was 2002 when I had lunch with her at the MIA and told her of this crazy idea of weaving meters of vadmel and making garments in the same two week workshop. She signed on immediately at age 80 and of course it was a joy to have her in our group, along with her roommate that year Janet Meany; sharing the pioneering spirit needed to complete such a daunting task. This was also when Ingebjørg Vaagen really got to know Lila and her many interests, through long discussions of textiles, art and politics in Norway and America.

And finally, my daughter Mae, who recently completed graduate studies in textiles, spent time with Lila on a number of occasions in her life.  Mae wrote to remind us that her generation also remembers Lila, and that her work will be there for those in the future who find their way to a strong textile interest.

Lila weaving at an historic loom that belongs to Eli Vesaas; at Vesaas Farm weaving studio, Vinje, Telemark, Norway, 2002.

Lila weaving at an historic loom that belongs to Eli Vesaas; at Vesaas Farm weaving studio, Vinje, Telemark, Norway, 2002.



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