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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?

center-motif-detail

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.

cat-damask

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.

humle-flowers

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.

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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.

pleated-folded

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

Links/Sources:

 

Houses and Chickens by Lila Nelson

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum: Building the Collection

By Laurann Gilbertson, Curator, Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Now numbering 24,000 objects, the collection that makes up Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, started in 1877 as a study aid for students attending Luther College.  The first donation was a group of birds’ eggs.  In the early years, the college’s collection was an assortment of natural history specimens, ethnographic items brought back by Lutheran missionaries serving around the world, relics of historical events, mementoes of important people, and reproductions of classical artworks.

By 1895 faculty and alumni at Luther College officially resolved that Norwegian immigrant materials should be a stated focus of the collection.  In doing so the museum became a pioneer in the preservation and promotion of America’s cultural diversity.

The first historic building was added to the grounds in 1913, starting the Open Air Division.  No other U.S. museum had collected buildings, though this was already taking place in Scandinavia.

In 1925, in honor of 100 years of emigration, Anders Sandvig (founder of Maihaugen, a major museum in eastern Norway) coordinated a gift of artifacts from Norwegian museums.  “May these objects work,” wrote Sandvig, “so that the Norwegian-ness in you will not die too soon, and the connection with the homeland will because of this be tighter.  Receive this gift as proof that we follow you all in our hearts, even though the big Atlantic parts us.”  The gift took two years to assemble and filled 23 crates.  The museum in Nordmøre sent several clothing items, including two linen shirts with extremely fine whitework embroidery.  They would have no way of knowing that this gift meant the survival of several cultural treasures when their museum would be destroyed during WWII.

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Shirt with whitework embroidery from Valset, Nordmøre, ca. 1830. Donated by Kristiansund Museum (now Nordmøre Museum) as part of a group of gifts from Norwegian museums. LC0697.

After the war, director Inga Bredesen Norstog created a national audience through newspapers and magazines and soon the museum was receiving visitors and artifact donations from all over the United States.

The museum became an independent institution in 1964 and adopted the name “Vesterheim,” which was the term that immigrants used to describe America – their western home – when writing letters home to Norway.

Beginning in the 1960s, director Marion Nelson showed visitors there was art in everyday objects and added fine art to the museum’s collection statement.  Today, staff are “refining” the collection – looking to fill gaps to ensure that the objects can tell even more stories of the immigrant experiences.  We are also trying to share many of these stories and artifacts through exhibits at the museum, online, and on the road.  A selection of 119 textiles can be viewed at  http://collections.vesterheim.org/items/browse?collection=3  The “Online Textiles Collection” includes woven, knit, embroidered, quilted, and sewn items.  Click on the listing of an item to read more about it.  Then click on the photo to see a large full-view and detailed images.

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Sjønaleister socks from Hardanger, Norway. This pair is one of 119 textile artifacts on Vesterheim’s Online Collections. LC0298.

In 1967, Vesterheim began an education program to teach traditional handwork skills by bringing instructors from Norway.  The first three instructors taught rosemaling (rose painting).    Since then, Norwegian instructors have taught all kinds of fiber arts, woodworking, and knifemaking, as well as music and dance.  Recent fiber arts teachers have included Marta Kløve Juuhl (warp-weighted loom weaving), Ingebjørg Monsen (pile weave, bunad jacket sewing), Liv Bugge (Norwegian overshot weaves), and Britt Solheim (sheepskin coverlet making).  American and Canadian instructors also teach one- to five-day classes at Vesterheim.  A highlight for many students is the visit to see artifacts in textile storage for information and inspiration.

Three textile symposia have been held at Vesterheim (1997, 2005, 2009).  These have offered opportunities to learn about Norwegian and Norwegian-American textiles, artists, and techniques from both the historical and contemporary perspectives.  Speakers and teachers have been brought from Norway for the symposia.

Another special educational opportunity comes in the form of textile study tours to Norway.  Katherine Larson for Nordic Heritage Museum organized the first trip in 1999 and then Vesterheim has offered six more trips (with the next trip planned for 2015).  The tours combine touring with hands-on learning.  There are visits to museums, presentations by curators, tours of factories, and visits to artists in their studios.  The philosophy behind the study tours is to travel with people who share a passion for textiles, do things that an independent traveler could not do, and learn a lot!  The tours have been popular with people who have seen Norway in a general way before and now want to focus in on textiles.  But many first-time travelers have found the tours to be a great introduction to Norway.  The tours usually attract a mix of people: weavers, knitters, embroiderers, collectors, textile enthusiasts, friends, and spouses.

IMG_0129

Margaret Trussell (Maryland) photographs halvfloss (“half” pile) cushion covers and Kay Larson (Washington) views the back of a billedvev (tapestry) cushion cover at Maihaugen in Lillehammer, Norway. The textiles were brought out specially for the Textile Study Tour to Norway and Sweden in 2007.

No history of Vesterheim is complete without a mention of Lila Nelson, who served as Registrar and Curator of Textiles for 27 years.  Lila has had such a significant influence on textile education, collections, research, and outreach at Vesterheim and in the United States that she has received special commendation from the Norwegian government.  The April 2012 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter is dedicated to Lila Nelson and features some of her weavings.  When Lila retired in 1991 and I began working with the textile collection, many staffers said I had large shoes to fill.  That has been true, but gratefully Lila leaves a clear path of excellence to follow.

2011032046

“Houses and Chickens” by Lila Nelson. In this small hanging, Lila explored the creative possibilities of dansk brogd, a technique used in southern Norway for coverlets. Lila taught many classes in traditional weaving techniques at Vesterheim. 2011.032.046.

In part two of this article, which will appear in the May, 2014 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter, take an “armchair” tour of Vesterheim’s textile collection.

Laurann Gilbertson has been Textile Curator at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for 19 years and is now Chief Curator.

lgilbertson (at) vesterheim.org, 563-382-9681

Editor’s note: February 2014

Robbie LaFleur

Chance encounters and email conversations are great ways to find articles.  This summer I took a class in weaving on a warp-weighted loom; that’s where I met Heidi Goldberg, who said she would be happy to write an article about teaching a college class in Nordic Arts.  (My favorite line from her article was, “There are many students who have never worked on projects requiring facile hand skills unless it involved a computer keyboard.”)

Heidi Goldberg and Charlie Hovde

Heidi Goldberg and Charlie Hovde share a loom at Vesterheim, Summer 2013

A fortuitous chance encounter led to another great article in this issue, A Piece of Old Finery: The Story of the Nordland Bunad.  Kay Larson learned the story during a trip to a museum in northern Norway.  I was not expecting Laurann Gilbertson’s article about the history of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum to bring tears to my eyes.  The same thing might happen to you when you read about the items sent from the museum in Nordmøre.  We’re lucky to have Ingebjørg Monsen’s loving tribute to Sissel Calmeyer.  (I’m also happy that Ingebjørg has two more artists she plans to profile in future issues.)  And finally, the snow-washing article is a bonus, yet another chance encounter story.  Enjoy them all!

A Most Important Note

This month’s header image of spelsau sheep in Norway was taken by Annemor Sundbø, and is used with her permission.

It is just a teaser, really, because it will appear in her forthcoming book about spelsau sheep in Norway.  Tusen takk, Annemor!  Norwegian Textile Letter readers – you will be sure to know about the book as soon as it is available!

Becoming the editor of the Norwegian Textile Letter has been a privilege and a very fun challenge.  I’ve been gratified by the willingness of talented writers to contribute, and I have enough ideas for years to come.  When adding Marta Kløve Juuhl’s reminiscence of snow-washing coverlets, it struck me that we can solicit more articles written in Norwegian, and include both Norwegian and English for our readers.

There is a constant learning curve for the technical aspects of editorship.  Based on my experience with two issues, I’ve been coming up with my own style guidelines and determining the best formats for article text and images to be submitted. I’ll continue to experiment with new ways to incorporate media.  In this issue, Heidi Goldberg submitted many photos of her students and their works.  I opted to include them all on a separate gallery page.   I see video contributions in the newsletter’s future.

And it’s not as if this is just one issue appearing on the site.  Scanned issues of volumes three and four have been added in the Archives section.  (But – one issue was not scanned correctly and will appear shortly –  the February 1998 issue.)

Readers are welcome to contact authors of the articles directly.  Each author’s email address is listed at the bottom of the article.  To avoid publicizing email addresses directly on the web, which might lead to unwanted spam, I substitute (at) instead of the @ sign.  For example, instead of listing author@gmail.com, I list author (at) gmail.com.

Robbie LaFleur

http://boundweave.wordpress.com/

Image 4

A Piece of Old Finery: The Story of the Nordland Bunad

By Katherine Larson

Photo1Sample

An early 20th century embroidery sample, adapted for the Nordland bunad from an older piece. Embroidery by Dina Kulstad. Vefsn Museum, Mosjøen, Norway. Photo: K. Larson.

Long ago, a woman took needle in hand and embroidered fanciful vines and flowers onto the breast-piece and pocket of a green wool dress.  When the dress met its inevitable fate in the ragbag, these small pieces were pulled off and saved.  At some point in their history, the right pair of hands gave these pieces to a little girl, who used them as “paintings” to decorate the walls of her playroom.  When the little girl left her childhood behind, she tucked the pieces away instead of throwing them away, a small happenstance that is at the beginning of the Nordland bunad’s story. (The bunad is a Norwegian costume based on local folk traditions; images of the Nordland bunad can be found here.)

During a visit to north Norway last September, I spent a day at Vefsn Museum in the town of Mosjøen.  Mosjøen lies in the middle of an area known as Helgeland, the southern part of Nordland County.  I was at the Museum to see the oldest known rye coverlet in Norway, a knotted-pile fragment now carefully preserved behind glass in a framed box.  Because my mother’s ancestors came from Helgeland, I was also curious about local textile traditions. Curator Rønnaug Tuven showed me the rye fragment, and then graciously asked if I would like to see some of the other treasures in the collection.  The invitation to look in a museum storeroom is an opportunity not to be missed, and I readily accepted. Since very little from the ‘old country’ survived my grandparent’s trek across the States to the West Coast, I was also excited to see what my family’s Helgeland attic might have contained.

Photo2OldEmbroidery

Old pieces of embroidery, probably a breast-piece and pocket. Vefsn Museum, Mosjøen, Norway. Photo: K. Larson

After looking in many boxes and opening many drawers, two small pieces of embroidered cloth came forth.  Tuven told me the story of the little girl and her “paintings,” and later showed me several books that explained how these pieces became the basis for the Nordland bunad. The following description summarizes this story,1 and provides an interesting window into a time when the Norwegian bunad was coming into being.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, interest in folk traditions was high, as Norwegians set about rediscovering their past.  Astrid Langjord, a writer and poet from the Mosjøen area, recounts that it was popular in the late 19th century to make copies of the Hardanger bunad. Then, following the 1903 publication of Hulda Garborg’s small booklet, Norsk Klædebunad (a description of Norwegian traditional dress, including several patterns), the Halling bunad became a new source of inspiration.

In 1926, the Hålogaland Ungdomslag (Helgeland Youth Society) decided to see if there were any pieces of old clothing in their region that might inspire a costume of their own.  Langjord was the leader of the committee charged with this task, and members of the committee searched for a year, each in their own area, to see what pieces of clothing might come to light.

At their next meeting in 1927, the Youth Society reviewed the many pieces of finery gathered by the committee, and there was general agreement that the most striking examples were the two small pieces of embroidery mentioned above.  They were brought to the meeting by Dina Kulstad, who had received them from a woman at Røyten farm in Vefsn, a keepsake from her childhood. (Vefsn is the larger municipality surrounding Mosjøen.)

It so happened that Langjord had an old green bodice in her collection, part of a bridal dress from Ravassåsen farm, also in Vefsn.  This bodice had a nice form but no embellishment, and the old embroidery was copied almost exactly onto the back of the bodice (you still find it there on today’s bunad). Discussion ensued concerning how to adapt the embroidery to the front of the garment, and of what the ultimate shape of the bodice would be.  The Oslo handcraft shop, Heimen, also took an interest in the project, and the final embroidery design for the skirt was contributed by one of its employees, a Miss Grude (Heimen, which is still a thriving business, helped to foster interest in the bunad, in association with Hulda Garborg).

Photo3BackEmbroidery

Embroidery on the back of the Nordland bunad. Vefsn Museum. Photo: Vefsn Museum.

A newly sewn blue version of the proposed bunad was proudly shown at the Youth Society’s meeting in the summer of 1928. The design was well received, and was adopted that fall into the needlework program of Vefsn Folk High School in Mosjøen.  Under the capable guidance of teacher Anne Svare, the first group of eleven students made bunads in both blue and green fabrics.

In describing the committee’s original search to find remnants of the local clothing tradition, Langjord remembered that many people had been very supportive of their efforts, but others had scoffed and suggested they should be doing something more useful. Speaking 20 years later, at a time when the bunad tradition had grown in stature, Langjord noted with some satisfaction that there were few who continued to express reservations about bondeglo when referring to the Nordland bunad.

Puzzled by the use of bondeglo, which is not in my Norwegian/English dictionary, I found the word in Hulda Garborg’s Norsk Klædebunad, along with an explanation for its somewhat derisive meaning (the booklet is online; see pp. 6–7).

In the late 19th century, according to Garborg, as factory-made clothing became popular, Norway’s time-honored, colorful forms of dress were abandoned for fabrics of “grey-brown” and “brown-grey-green”; in short, “color mush.”  A new word arose at that time, bondeglo, to describe traditional clothing.  In fear of this label, many rushed to divest themselves of their rural attire and don city clothes.  The picture of my own great grandmother, ca. 1880, might be a case in point.

Photo4Petersons

Peter Christian and Maren Kristin Peterson, ca. 1880, the author’s great grandparents. Vega, Norway. Photo: K. Larson.

Bonde is the Norwegian word for farmer, and it is likely that glo comes from glorete: gaudy or glaring,2 which explains Garborg’s further use of the term bondeglo. She notes that in some places, especially “high up in the mountains or long out towards the coast,” people perversely clung to their old ways. “…they wore their bondeglo as always, and considered themselves to be no more like ‘Indians’ than they had before.”  In addition to providing an interesting glimpse into turn-of-the-century sensibilities, Garborg’s reference makes clear that colorful rural attire was considered less-than-civilized in a country that was striving to emulate the fashions of a wider world.  No wonder Langjord and her committee members encountered crosscurrents when searching out pieces of discarded finery!

Fortunately, the committee persisted in the face of a somber, factory-informed sense of fashion.  Fortunately as well, a sentimental little girl kept her playroom “paintings,” to the benefit of future generations of Nordland women.

______________________________

[1] Sources for Nordland bunad description:

“Nordlandsbunaden, Vefsn-bunaden.” Excerpts from an informal lecture by Astrid Langjord, 1949. In Fagerli, Åse et al., eds. 1996. Spor etter mødrene. Kvinneprosjektet – Mon. Mosjøen, pp. 83–85.

Halse, Kristian 1999. Oplysning være skal vor lyst, Vefsn folkehøgskole 1899–1999. Mosjøen, pp. 186–191.

2 I would like to thank Ingebjørg Monsen, Leader of the Bergen Husflidslag, for help with this term.

Katherine (Kay) Larson is the author of The Woven Coverlets of Norway and holds a doctorate in Scandinavian Textile History from the University of Washington.

kllarson (at) uw.edu

 

Snow-washing

Snow-washing: An American Account and a Norwegian Story

Heidi Goldberg:  Snow washing ryas at Concordia College on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

A cheerful visit from Solveig Storvick Pollei the week before served as the impetus for a rya snow-washing day. Solveig had stopped by the art department when she was at Concordia College to have a look at the weavings on campus. We found some ryas looking a bit drab and dusty, and her suggestion of a little snow cleaning spurred me into action.

Photos by Solveig Pollei.  The colors look bright here, but Solveig noted they were a bit dusty.

Photos by Solveig Pollei. The colors look bright here, but Solveig noted they were a bit dusty.

Rya from Concordia College

Solveig Pollei found a pair of ryas in storage at Concordia College

When we snow-washed the ryas, it was ten degrees and sunny. With only a light and variable wind, it seemed like a respite from the subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills we’d endured in the last weeks.

At first I contemplated taking them home to clean them, away from curious eyes in my secluded front yard. Then I thought, “Why not celebrate the unusual activity of snow-washing handwoven articles and use the occasion as a learning and laughing opportunity with my Nordic Arts students!” We were finishing up our woodcarving unit and embarking on rosemaling; the fiber unit was still a few weeks away. I encouraged students to bring boots to the next class period.  When I announced that we should clean up early to go wash the ryas, the students seemed half interested, not really knowing what to expect. When it came time to go, even the reluctant scrambled for their coats, the oddity of the prospect urging them to see what it was all about.

Sonw-washing, Cassie

Cassie adds snow to the rya

We plodded off the sidewalk into the clean snow on Olin Hill; the snow was a couple feet deep. We flattened the three ryas out in the snow and started in. We dragged them a bit across the snow, gently stepped on them, piled and brushed snow across them with our mittens, picked them up, shook them out, flipped them over and repeated the process several times. The process not only cleaned the rugs, but provided a fun bonding experience for the class. I should note that one of the ryas is lighter in weight and needs some repairs; we took care to be quite gentle with this rya.

Nick and Heidi snow-wash the rya

Nick and Heidi snow-wash the rya

One could clearly see that the pieces were indeed cleaner, the colors were more vibrant, and the wool smelled fresher.  A few fine crystals stuck to the pieces after the washing. When we brought them back in, a little snow melted on the surface, dampening them slightly, but the pieces felt dry after a couple hours of being left to air out in my office. The crystals of the sparkling dry fresh snow worked beautifully to bring the ryas back to life.

Snow-washing

The ryas were turned over in the snow

Melissa, AJ, and the snow-wahsed rya

Melissa and AJ display the renewed rya

Marta Kløve Juuhl:  Snow-washing in the Mountains of Norway

(Editor’s note:  Since textile snow-washing is often done in Norway, I asked Marta Kløve Juuhl, from the Østeroy Museum in Hordaland, if she had any Norwegian instructions or photos to add.  She reminded me she is from Vestland, where there isn’t always so much snow, and her museum is even closer to the coast.  She didn’t really have instructions, but thinking about snow-washing brought up a great memory.  Here is her story, followed by a translation.)

Ein sommar på 1990 talet gjekk heile familien min, mann, eg og 3 barn (8 og 11år)  på ein lang fjelltur opp til ei jakthytte som far min bygde på 1960- talet. Det var 5 timar å gå, og alle ungane måtte ha ryggsekk med sine eigne ting i.  Hytta er ganske primitiv, men der er rikeleg med sengklede. Det vil seia mange ullteppe, eller kvitlar på vossamål, min dialekt.

Veret var strålande, så vi hadde ein fin tur opp, men gjekk i mykje snø. Dagen etter var det like fint ver, og då bestemte eg at vi skulle vaska kvitlane (ullteppa). Der var mange snøfenner rundt hytta, så vi bar ut alle saman, minst 20 teppe, breidde dei utover oppå snøen. Ungane fekk hoppa og spretta så mykje dei ville på dei. Etterpå snudde vi dei, og ungane gjentok hoppinga. Like ved er der nokre store steinar som vi la ullteppa på etterpå, så dei fekk turka seg. Og reine vart dei.

Jegerar har aldri tid til slikt når dei er på jakt, så eg er sikker på at kvitlane har ikkje vore vaska slik fleire gonger.

One summer in 1990 I took my whole family – my husband, me, and three children (our 11-year-old daughter and eight-year-old twin boys) – on a long mountain hike up to a hunting cabin my father built in the 1960s.  It was a five hour hike and all the children had to carry backpacks with their own belongings.  The cabin was very primitive but rich in bed coverings, that is to say, wool blankets, or “kvitlar” in Voss dialect.

The weather was brilliant so we had a fine hike up, but we walked in deep snow.  The day after had equally beautiful weather and we decided to wash the kvitlane in the many snowdrifts around the cabin. We carried them all out, at least 20 blankets, and laid them out over the snow.  The children got to jump and leap around on them as much as they wanted.  Afterwards we turned them over and the children resumed their hopping. There were several large rocks nearby, so we laid the rugs on them to dry. And clean they became.

Hunters never have time for this sort of task when they are hunting, so I’m quite sure that the kvitlane haven’t seen such washing many times!

Marta Kløve Juuhl taught weaving in the Norwegian Husflidsskole system for many years.  She now works part-time at Østerøy museum, primarily with textiles, and also in her private studio. Her current commissions include bands for bunads and wall hangings for churches.
marta.klove.juuhl (at) gmail.com
Sharon Marquardt

Transforming Through Tradition: Teaching Nordic Arts at Concordia College, Moorhead

By Heidi Goldberg 

My mother taught me how to knit when I was 11. I think that is where my love of fibers was born.  I immediately was rewarded with the sense of satisfaction in watching something form from my own mind and hands, not unlike drawing, which I have always loved. Bringing something from creative vision to artistic reality became my passion.  My dream of teaching in the creative field of art guided me to Concordia College in Moorhead, MN where for these last  eighteen years I have been teaching various art media to inspiring students.  Every day, I have the rich reward of witnessing students as they bask in the glow one gets after the rush of discovering when concept and technique unite and the fruits of labor are held in one’s hands.  Even as I teach, I too, still learn and rediscover the thrills of achieving success with new techniques. Well over a decade ago, I began working with Dawn Tommerdahl, my close friend and colleague who formerly taught in the Scandinavian Studies department at Concordia College, to envision a class in which our liberal arts students would be exposed to traditional Nordic arts. The influence, assistance, encouragement and camaraderie of Dawn and another dear friend, Charlie Hovde, have been critical in the process, nudging the development of the class along. The three of us have enjoyed numerous road trips to the mid-western Norsk mecca of Decorah, IA to take classes together at Vesterheim over the years. All of these experiences evolved into the creation of my class, Nordic Arts, which was given formal approval in the curriculum just this last year as a direct response for the call on campus for interdisciplinary connections and involvement in global issues. The global aspect of this course is at the heart of it. We examine questions such as:

  1. How are northern cultures and artists around the world connected through art and the making of unique objects?
  2.  How does our geography and climate affect who we are and how we live in relationship to the objects we make and live with?

Examining objects from Nordic cultures give us insights into ourselves and how we are connected to others through common experiences. sm.print Nordic Arts#43209ANordic Arts is an introduction to the technical and aesthetic depth, beauty, variety and uses of works in various media from Nordic countries. Students learn about influences of: history, fundamental connection to nature and geography, aesthetic, style, and function as well as technical processes of traditional arts of woodcarving, rosemaling, and fiber. There is no other course like this one offered at Concordia College. It is studio based but unlike any other studio classes in its subject matter and technical focus. The course supports and extends experiences of students in other courses of Art, Scandinavian Studies, and History through the practice of observing, making, and critiquing works of art.  It also works as a conduit in the study of culture and language as the material we cover brings is to use new terminology and study background reflecting technique, object, and culture. Nordic Arts students also learn from the historical investigations and presentations of Scandinavian Studies/History: Scandinavian Immigration and Settlement in America students. Working through the projects of this course increases self-confidence in students in the ability to design and make useful and beautiful objects with their own hands. Some of these objects are functional and practical objects; some are art objects that are more decorative in nature. We examine the meanings and blurred lines in the questions surrounding these ideas:

  1. What constitutes various levels of craft vs. art in a culture where the meaning of the word ‘craft’ is often diminished to a ‘YouTube do-it-yourself’ demonstration showing how to quickly throw together components resulting in a formula project?
  2. Why is the word craft so often used in a disparaging way in the world of fine art?
  3. What happened to the ‘craftmanship’ in craft?
  4. What is behind all the artificial hierarchy of media in the art world?

As an artist trained in printmaking, I greatly value and am a lover of process/technique through often time-consuming processes, it is important to me that students gain appreciation of process through witnessing and experiencing it, as well as a sense of satisfaction in getting through it with good results demonstrating a developing technique. The combination of discipline and skills students learn in this class reaches across fields and cultures, and are life-long skills that are supportive of, and requiring, creative thought processes and mind-body connection through critical thinking and fine motor skills as well as eye-hand coordination. These are skills, often discovered through earlier exposure to making things, that can be honed over decades of practice.  There are many students who have never worked on projects requiring facile hand skills unless it involved a computer keyboard. Studio art classes can be foreign and intimidating to some. In these classes, students overcome insecurities about designing and making objects step by step.  Through required dedication of time and effort they attain foundational skills and new abilities in techniques that are varied, challenging and exciting. This understanding of technique naturally leads to the creative exploration of concept and more advanced methods.

Cheryl Lussky and her projects

Cheryl Lussky stands with her projects at the end of the semester, sporting the traditional Norwegian fisherman’s cap she knitted

Materials inform and create dialog about how we choose to live. The issue of sustainability arises in this context because virtually all of the materials we use for the class come from nature, encouraging an affinity to nature. This ethical consideration is very much on the minds of many students who are conscious about the future of the earth and how our decisions impact it.  We consider notions of lifestyle choices, such as living more simply with less, and how those choices impact/affect others.  We consider as a class, choosing fewer, more special, objects that are in harmony with the environment, both in the place of residence and the out in the greater eco-environment, rather than multitudes of mass-produced/standardized things to fill the insatiable desires in which our mass consumerist society is so entrenched. Within the fiber unit, students quickly learn a multitude of skills such as how to spin wool, knit, draft patterns and knit two-color pieces with double pointed needles, felt, and weave. In terms of weaving techniques we have explored band weaving using cards, the rigid heddle loom, and the inkle loom, working with various weaves on table looms (including sampling plain weave, twill, as well as more culture specific weave structure including tavlebragd, krogbragd, and telemarksvev). We’ve had the honor of having dedicated expert weavers Marian Quanbeck Dahlberg and Sharon Marquardt work with us as well. Marian introduced us to working with linen, often used in Scandinavian textiles, instructing students in making lovely shimmering small towels in a waffle-weave variation, and Sharon worked with students on back-strap looms designed by Sharon using PVC pipe on which students were able to weave various Norwegian techniques one would make using a warp-weighted loom. Students were able to leave the course with these little portable looms in hand. I am so grateful for the generosity and wisdom these women have shared with my students and myself.

Sharon Marquardt

Sharon Marquardt assists Amber Huse with her weaving

The techniques we practice and the objects we make are deeply connected to past cultures and the work of our ancestors and heritages. We are learning from, and gaining respect for, the developed wisdom that is passed down generations. Students are able to understand the cultural and historical contexts that gave rise to the development of the work, and explain the nature of the work. Given this new and deeper insight, students with Nordic heritage are encouraged to re-connect to the histories of their families and launch new traditions and practices for investment into their future. Those who come to the class without Nordic heritage discover the beauty of Nordic culture and its unique relationship to nature and aesthetics. Amidst all this, students discover complexity and experience frustrations while overcoming the technical demands of making this work.  Inherent in this student experience comes the replenishing and development of identity, self and spirit in discovering their creative capabilities. Students add dimension to their identities through this learning and practice, putting in place a vehicle to develop balance and well-being personally and spiritually. I thank my mother for opening the door to a world into which I had no idea I was stepping.  It has become my calling to pass on to others, mainly the young women and men in my classes who are looking for islands of calm and wonder in our culture of high-speed instant gratification and time-demanding technology based communication.

Bonus!  See a slide show of photos from the Nordic Arts class, including photos of guest lecturers and students’ accomplishments.
Heidi Goldberg is a professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.
goldberg (at) cord.edu