Ryas at The American Swedish Institute – The Local Connection

In conjunction with the American Swedish Institute exhibit, The Living Tradition of Ryijy – Finnish Rugs and their Makers, an exhibit of ryas made by selected weavers in Iowa and Minnesota is on view in the ASI Community Gallery, on the lower level near the classroom and the Nelson Gallery. Ryas: The Local Connection is the inaugural exhibit in this space, in which Curator Curt Pederson plans showcase local talent in a variety of media.  Following is a list of the pieces included in the show.  (Two notes: In this overview, the Americanized term rya is used. Click on the thumbnails for larger images of individual pieces.)

Ryas by Laura Demuth hanging in the Community Gallery at the American Swedish Institute

Ryas by Laura Demuth hanging in the Community Gallery at the American Swedish Institute

IMG_1582IMG_0670 “Surrounded by Houndstooth,” by Laura Demuth. 53” x 65”, wool.  This coverlet was woven from handspun yarns from the artist’s own Shetland fleece. The black yarn was spun from a black fleece and the remaining yarns were hand-dyed with natural dyes.  The ground weave is a color-and-weave 8-harness houndstooth twill. The coverlet was woven in two sections, and sewn together by hand in order to create a textile that fits a queen bed.

Rya2 Rya3“Doubleweave in Purple and Green,” by Laura Demuth.  27” x 42”, wool.  This is one of two pieces woven with doubleweave pick-up on one side and pile on the other.  In this combination of techniques it is possible to hide the rya knots between the two layers of doubleweave, thereby creating a textile with a pick-up design on one surface and pile on the other. The doubleweave design was adapted from a traditional Scandinavian pattern.

Rya1IMG_1583“Wrapped in Rya,” by Laura Demuth. ” 38” x 56”, wool.  Norwegian spelsau yarn was used for this piece that combines two techniques: doubleweave pick-up and rya.  To accomplish it, Laura taught herself to tie the rya knots upside down on the lower surface while she wove the pick-up pattern on the upper surface. The design for the pick-up pattern was inspired by a Norwegian sweater pattern.

IMG_1577 IMG_0665“Oak Leaf,” by Laura Demuth.  36” x 65”, wool.  This coverlet was an exploration of combining rya knots with doubleweave overshot. The doubleweave provides a space between the two layers where the rya knots can be hidden. Because the doubleweave overshot pattern is completely loom controlled and no pick-up work is required, the rya knots can be tied on the upper surface. This allows for more color and pattern work on the rya surface.

IM000401.JPGLaura Demuth has been a weaver for over 30 years and enjoys all aspects of textile production, from raising the sheep to taking a finished piece off the loom. Because she lives on a small acreage just seven miles northeast of Decorah, the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum has been a continual source of education and inspiration throughout her weaving career. Laura has focused on traditional weaving structures and techniques, and is a Vesterheim Gold Medalist.


IMG_7182IMG_7186“Mostly Handspun,” by Mary Lønning Skoy. 50” x 25”, wool. Mary wove this piece in two panels, as so many older ryas were woven.  In this case, she used the method to weave a horizontal piece wide enough to fill a space above her fireplace mantel.  The base is woven of chemically-dyed red yarn, but the visible red header yarn was dyed with madder.  Her initials and date are woven in with wool dyed with walnut hulls.  Most of the pile is hand-spun wool, sparked with additional fibers, including linen and cotton.

MaryHeadMary Lønning Skoy, Minneapolis, Minnesota, traces her fiber roots to her Norwegian great aunt Sunniva Lønning,  a fiber artist, teacher and activist in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s in Norway, who also worked to preserve and protect ancient sheep breeds in Norway, particularly spelsau. Mary has taught classes in knitting and in weaving on the rigid heddle frame loom and published a book for beginning frame loom weavers called Weaving on the Frame Loom: A First Project.  She embodies her interest in natural fibers by making and using handwoven household rugs, pillows, and table linens.  She also knits and weaves garments and accessories.  She is a long-time member of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota Scandinavian Weavers Study Group.

“Dandelion,” by Anita Jain.  13” x 14”, wool pile knotted onto burlap canvas. Many of Anita’s pieces are inspired by nature, as is the case in the the hand-knotted Dandelion ryijy.



IMG_7506“Tulip,” by Anita Jain.  10″ x 12″, wool pile knotted onto burlap canvas.  This piece was draped on a podium, with a label saying, “Go ahead and touch this ryijy! Soft and thickly piled, ryijys are incredibly warm, making them the perfect accompaniment for a Nordic (or Minnesotan!) winter.”

Anita Jain was born in Finland – and born into fiber.  Both of her parents were designers and worked mostly with fabric; she was exposed to everything fiber from an early age.  Her fiber art pieces are diverse in technique, including woven pieces embellished with beads and found objects.  She creates fiber sculptures with felted wool and over-dyed wool pieces and other materials, with sewn and needle-felted details. For many of her wall pieces she uses a free machine sewing technique.

MostrumJan_Protection_Rya“Protection,”  by Jan Mostrom. 19″ x 56″, wool.  The knotted design is inspired by the protective symbols painted in white on the inside walls of a medieval house in the Folkemuseum in Hardanger, Norway.  The painting was also decorative, the white paint lightening the dark windowless room.  The bright striped backing is based on a rya coverlet in the Vesterheim Norwegian American museum collection. Jan analyzed that coverlet and published a draft to reproduce the coverlet in the xxx issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter. (article link)

Mail AttachmentJan Mostrom. Chanhassan, Minnesota.  Jan has been a weaver for 40 years.  Her main area of interest is in Scandinavian textile techniques.  She has taken classes from a variety of Scandinavian instructors and traveled to Scandinavia.  She is a Vesterheim National Exhibition of Folk Art gold medalist and a long-time member of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota Scandinavian Weavers Study Group.  Jan has taught classes at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum, the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, the American Swedish Institute, and at conferences.    She is teaching two rya classes at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota in connection with the Living Tradition of Rijiy exhibit.

Ryas by Robbie LaFleur in the Community Gallery at the American Swedish Institute

Image“Hard Realities: A Homage to Edvard Munch,” by Robbie LaFleur.  31” x 48”, wool. This piece was woven in a pixelated fashion, similar to the work of Chuck Close.  Each knot yarn bundle was compared to the corresponding place in a gridded cartoon. (See details of the process here.)


IMG_2497”Squeezed: A Homage to Robert Motherwell,” by Robbie LaFleur.  29” x 45”, wool.  The shapes in this rya were inspired by many of Robert Motherwell’s variations of “Elegy to the Spanish Republic.” For more information about weaving the piece, see “Weaving a Rya was endless, but Satisfying.”


icelandic-flat icelandic-shaggy“Icelandic Crosses” (A dyptych), by Robbie LaFleur.  “17” x 35”, wool.  These two pieces were woven on a warp-weighted loom of the same variety on which a Viking may have woven a rya bed coverlet or shoulder covering a thousand years ago.  The yarn is fastened with an Icelandic knot.  Rather than tied around two warp threads, the pile yarn piece is looped around one warp and carried under two-three warp threads beside it.  The knots that stand at attention  are  reminiscent of  the short, stiff manes of Icelandic ponies.

robbie-head-shot-2014Robbie LaFleur, Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been following a thread of Scandinavian textiles since she studied weaving at Valdres Husflidsskole in Fagernes, Norway in 1977.  She has continued her study with Scandinavian instructors at workshops in Norway and the U.S.  Recent projects include interpreting Edvard Munch’s “Scream” painting into a variety of textile techniques, and weaving tapestry portraits of her relatives. She was awarded the gold Medal in Weaving from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in 2006.  Robbie coordinates the the Weavers Guild of Minnesota Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and is on the board of directors of the Weavers Guild of  Minnesota
Rya pillows by Lila Nelson and Marie Nodland, which no doubt resided on a couch or chair for years, are now elevated to a beautiful display.

Rya pillows by Lila Nelson and Marie Nodland, which no doubt resided on a couch or chair for years, are now elevated to a beautiful display.

IMG_7187“Pillow in Green,” by Lila Nelson. 18” x 25”, wool face with cotton backing.  Lila is best known for her often political or humorous images in tapestry.  For this densely-piled pillow in rya, Lila retained the characteristically rich, saturated palette of her tapestries.

lila-croppedLila Nelson, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Most people in this area who weave in Norwegian techniques count Lila Nelson as a role model and mentor.  She was the long-time Curator of Textiles at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, and a core member of the Scandinavian Weaving Study Group at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.


IMG_1572“Pillow with Handspun Wool,” by Marie Nodland.  20” x 20”, wool face with linen backing. This piece is made of mostly handspun wool.  In contrast to many Scandinavian pile hangings with sparse pile, this pillow-top has densely-packed knots that make the long pile stand almost straight up.

Marie Nodland (deceased).  Traditional Scandinavian weaving has deep roots among the descendants of immigrants in the Midwest.  Long-time weaver Marie Nodland wove in many Scandinavian techniques and was one of the founders of “De Norske Vevere” (The Norwegian Weavers) at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, the fore-runner of the current Scandinavian Weavers Study Group. 

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