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



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