It was five years ago and I had just returned from a trip to visit a friend in Bodø, Norway. While there I was lucky enough to see an exhibit of tapestries by Hannah Ryggen. I was totally astonished with her work and had to learn more about the great Norwegian tapestry weavers, so I started searching the Web for information about Norwegian tapestry.
While searching the Internet, I ran across an article about a man in London who was selling his father’s textile collection. The inventory of textiles was fantastic, but not much interested me until I saw a picture of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. I was able to contact him by email and asked what he knew about the piece. According to his father’s inventory information, it was purchased in Western Norway from a private party 50 years ago. The tapestry was put in a drawer and only discovered recently by the son of the individual who originally purchased it. Imagine this great tapestry filed in a drawer for 50 years.
The new owner was not really interested in Norwegian textiles and asked if I would like to purchase it for $140.00. We agreed on this price and it arrived in Minnesota about a month later.
When it arrived, I was horrified to see the condition of the parcel. It was wrapped in Christmas paper that had been turned with the back side out. The tapestry was folded in a small bundle, wrapped in Christmas paper and sent by boat. The parcel was in terrible condition, but thankfully someone at USPS was kind enough to put it in a plastic bag and it was eventually delivered to me. Fortunately there was no damage to the piece.
I contacted the seller regarding the condition of the package and he told me his father used to send packages in this shabby manner to his family in East Germany so the authorities there would not confiscate the package.
Again, I was so thankful it arrived in great condition.
Sometime later, I took the tapestry to Laurann Gilbertson, the Curator at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, for inspection. I was delighted to hear that is was Norwegian and from late 19th century or early 20th century. Most likely the piece was a cover for a bench and used for a wedding. The bride and groom sat on the bench for the wedding service. I can tell you from experience that Lutheran services can get fairly lengthy.
I’ve always had good luck at estate and rummage sales over the years, but never imagined owning a Wise and Foolish Virgin tapestry.
Corwyn (Corky) Knutson weaves in St. Paul, Minnesota. A beautiful red-filled rya recently won a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair this year, along with the Doris Tufte Sweepstakes for woven items in the Scandinavian tradition. One fortuitous event along his road to weaving in the Norwegian tradition happened years ago, when an old aunt died and left him boxes and boxes of Rauma yarn. Corky is now a dealer of Rauma yarn, and can be contacted at:
Corwyn Knutson (Corky)
2742 Lakeview Ave
Roseville, MN 55113