Lila Nelson Celebration: Robbie LaFleur

IMG_0050I know I am speaking for many of my friends, and all the current and past members of the Scandinavian Weavers Interest group when I mourn the loss of our fabulous friend and mentor, Lila Nelson.

Lila’s reputation preceded my friendship with her.  When I was in college I saw her weaving displayed somewhere, and it included a cushion-sized tapestry piece in a traditional Norwegian weaving pattern called skybragd.  I had read about that pattern, and the fact that it was so difficult to do well, as if no modern-day mortal could weave it.  Lila did, and I was in awe. At the time I never imagined that I would come to know Lila so well.

Her weaving was a source of great joy in her life.  If anyone here saw the enormous number of rolled-up tapestries stored in the couch in her living room, you would know what I mean.  During all the years she attended the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group meetings, everyone in our group was constantly amazed at the new work she consistently produced.

Lila helped us with our work, too.  She always found something important to say in response to pieces that were displayed at our monthly “show and tell” sessions.  Her remarks were important in that they were always kind, and delivered in a way that was supportive. You could show a sample or a first-time attempt and Lila would find the good and important in that effort: that the color choice was good, or how a different choice of warp would change the stiffness of the piece or enable you to cover the warp better.  The point is that she had deep knowledge of techniques, a discerning and experienced eye, and a true desire to help her friends improve and be inspired to continue.

In her own tapestry weaving Lila was able to tap an eternally youthful and open part of her soul. She combined the universal and personal in her work.  Few people could weave a scathing and horrible Abu Graib image, and then follow by a girl with braids, carefree on a swing.  Once I visited when an angular abstract image was on her loom.  Look, she told me, I thought the image was only abstract.  But when she reached a mid-point in the weaving she realized she was weaving the broken beams of the collapsed I-35 bridge, which was quite close to her home. (I have tried to find this piece, but I don’t know where it is.)

She never stopped learning and experimenting.  One year she told me about her intention to learn more about the language of abstraction, which to my mind, she already used to great advantage.  Another time she was enthusiastic about switching to red warp in her tapestries.  It didn’t make a difference in the completed pieces, because the warp was covered, but the red she saw during long hours at the loom made HER happy.

In addition to Lila as a weaving mentor, she showed me how to live a gracious and sensible life in so many ways.

She was a supportive and loving wife to her husband.  She didn’t feel the need to collect things, but didn’t mind that their house contained boxes and boxes of Marion’s crazy crocheted hot pad holders, for example.  I keep that in mind as my husband keeps buying new and old vinyl records.

She kept making surprising decisions, which in retrospect made so much sense.

Many years ago she announced at our Scandinavian Weavers meeting that she was just going to concentrate on her tapestry weaving and was no longer going to participate in our monthly meetings.  I think we all sat at the table, stunned.  How could we possibly continue without her?  But it was OK; our group has thrived. Each Christmas, including this past Christmas, we continued the tradition of celebrating in December with Lila.  The past few years the gathering has been held in the party room at Lyngblomsten.


A photo from a pre-Lyngblomsten year. Lila had so many wonderful objects in her home, particularly during the holidays, like the best-possible museum you could visit.

One year she announced she was going to sell her car; it was time to stop driving.  Later she said she was going to move to the assisted living facility at Lyngblomsten – that was her own, sensible decision.  And not only that, she was going to stop weaving and sell her loom.  I felt bereft that she would no longer be weaving, but she looked forward to another chapter, a time to read and write.

When I visited Lila at Lyngblomsten, she was always gracious and so pleased that I came, even when I felt she could have chastised me for not coming more often.  She had a way of making you feel that she has been doing well, but now that you are here, everything is great.

A warm and welcoming tableau in Lila's room at Lyngblomsten

A warm and welcoming tableau in Lila’s room at Lyngblomsten

She always asked about the Weavers Guild and the Textile Center.  Is there anything new at the Guild? Always a gracious hostess, she would ask if I would like a glass of wine. Since it was usually about 2 pm when I visited, there weren’t many occasions in the last years to share wine with Lila.  However, we did both drink a little wine at the festive book launch here at the Weavers Guild in May, Lila’s last outing.

Lisa Torvike and her husband Neal were so great about getting Lila out; here are Lisa and Lila at the "Nordic Roots" exhibit opening in Dassel, MN

Lisa Torvike and her husband Neal were so great about getting Lila out; here are Lisa and Lila at the “Nordic Roots” exhibit opening in Dassel, MN

When I finished a new piece of weaving, I loved to take it to Lila for appreciation. I’ll miss that.  I’ll miss Lila.  And tonight I’ll drink a little red wine in her honor.  Skål to Lila.

Addendum:  Lila loved travel and life experiences, and wove them into her work.  After she visited the polar bears at Churchill, Manitoba, several wonderful tapestries resulted.



The Vesterheim postcard – I love this one

Robbie LaFleur is a weaver, writer, and editor in Minneapolis.

Vesterheim Tour 2015: Doris Wiklund’s Studio

IMG_2699Doris Wiklund and her work contrast greatly with the landscape surrounding her. Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, is a major mining center, so much so that the city itself is being moved so iron can be extracted from under its present location. It is a harsh, bleak place with flat, black stretches of rock everywhere.

Neighbors were a bit alarmed when Vesterheim’s bus pulled up and two dozen people filed out and into Doris Wiklund’s home. The diminutive woman, dressed in an exquisitely embroidered white linen shirt and brown linen skirt, welcomed all of us. I felt a little embarrassed, as if part of a swarm of invading bees, but Doris didn’t seem to mind in the least. Her husband Jean wisely retreated to the kitchen.

IMG_2634 2Each wall of the home was covered with a row of Doris’ weavings alternating with a row of Jean’s photographs….as if throwing alternate shuttles.  I found the small transparent weaving of wild flowers, almost hidden in the far corner near Doris’ Glimakra loom, to be a true gem. Her bildevev (tapestries) are captivating; her rugs are paintings for the floor and her linens are the definition of exquisite.

A rug on the loom and a tapestry

A rug on the loom and a tapestry

Tapestries by Doris Wicklund

Tapestries by Doris Wicklund

IMG_2696Doris has written four books. She is best known for her 1996 book, Gamla Svenska Vävnader från Norr till Söder Omkring 1850-1950. Old Swedish Weavings from North to South: A Collection of Everyday Swedish Weavings from 1850 to 1950, was translated in 2010 by Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga Weaving School (Shelburne Falls, Massachussetts.) She told us she was delighted as weavers got word of what she was doing and would show up at her door with their treasured patterns. Her other books are: Gamla Vavnader from Norbotten, En Annorlunda Vavbok (1993); Annan Bild av Lappland : en Bok om Konstvävnader: Skildringar av Lappländs (1999); and Det Gamla Linneskåpet: Från Tuskaft till Damast (2004).

Doris showed us some of her books of drafts, which filled a wall of cabinets. She showed us yard after yard of her linens, all her own designs. One of the linens will be going to a granddaughter for her upcoming wedding. Her colorful storeroom was also a delight.

linenDoris has been weaving since she was five. Eighty years later she is still weaving. She did mention that she is very worried about what will happen to her work after she is gone. This is certainly a topic needing more discussion in art communities. How can we get Doris’ lifetime of amazing pieces to the preserving hands of a caring museum?

A big thank you to Doris for her generosity.

Elizabeth Hunter is a former reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, Washingon Bureau; a paralegal and current production weaver:

Lila Nelson’s Celebration: Laurann Gilbertson

It’s hard to imagine what Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum would have been like without Lila and Marion Nelson. For nearly 30 years they worked tirelessly to build and promote the collection, build a base of more than 6,000 members, and basically turn us into a world-class museum. Although Lila would always try to give the larger credit for this work to other staff and volunteers, we know that MUCH of the effort was hers.

A “Wise and Foolish Virgins” tapestry from the Vesterheim collection.

Unpaid, Lila typed correspondence for Marion when they worked on weekends and LATE into the night. She cataloged the collection of nearly 6000 artifacts that belonged to Luther College during a multi-year process to become an independent museum. She continued to catalog the artifacts for Vesterheim, another 8600+ (into 1987). The cataloging process included careful descriptions and dimensions and black and white photographs. She also developed an organizational system that allowed easy access to records in the years before computer databases. The files were arranged right to left, a holdover, she said, from her time in the Air Force. The files are still right to left.

Although there is no official record of how Vesterheim’s folk art education program, including craft study tours to Norway, originated, Lila’s fingerprints are all over. In 1967, not long after Marion and Lila took over the leadership of the museum, Vesterheim began to offer classes in folk arts, including rosemaling, woodworking, knifemaking, and weaving. Sometimes these were taught by Norwegians, sometimes by talented Americans, including Lila Nelson.

There were tours to Norway with the purpose of immersing in tradition, meeting practitioners, and learning techniques. There were textile study tours in the 1970s, and there have been numerous tours since for us and other folk artists.

A rya stored carefully in a drawer

A rya stored carefully in a drawer

The preservation of the collection was always a high priority. Lila studied textile conservation so she could actively provide better care. The passive care of the collection, though proper storage, should not be overlooked. One of Lila’s proudest accomplishments was the move of the textile collection (5,500 artifacts) into better space in 1991. She had considered the needs of each textile when planning racks (of certain lengths), drawers, and cupboards. It was my honor to work with her for 10 months as we moved from overcrowded storage to the new, carefully planned, space. As we unrolled and rerolled and put away the textiles, she would comment on them, teaching me about their color, creation, history.

Access to the artifacts was also a priority so in 2003 Lila sponsored the first all-color Vesterheim magazine. The magazine brings artifacts and their stories to members far and wide.

But even these impressive accomplishments don’t quite capture all of what Lila did for Vesterheim and for all of us. It was her ability to teach, inspire, and encourage. How many of you have heard of krokbragd or rya or have tried one of the Norwegian weaving techniques? That’s because of Lila.   Though classes, presentations, and personal contact she share her love of Norwegian textiles and of learning.

Vesterheim is pleased to offer an exhibition, beginning December 5, 2015, of some of Lila’s weavings [and tapestries will be at the Textile Center this fall]. Through her weavings, we can clearly see her life and legacy: Study historical examples, explore the possibilities for your own work, share the joy of what you’ve learned. Study, explore, share, repeat. A good way for us to live as well. Thank you, Lila.

Laurann Gilbertson is Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

Editor’s Note

When the celebration of Lila Nelson’s life was held at the Textile Center on June 26, I was amazed at the varied and interesting reminiscences of Lila’s life.  It was as if the speakers arranged ahead of time to present a perfectly balanced view of Lila’s life and accomplishments.  We did not!

For those of you in the wide-flung network of Lila fans who were not able to join us, I hope you enjoy these stories. I can’t capture the other aspects of the event that were meaningful – the true sense of fellowship in Lila, the delight in being together.  There was great food, too, and lovely flowers donated by the Textile Center, the Norwegian Consulate, and Francie Iverson. The speakers were introduced by Francie, a good friend of Lila’s, who started with these anecdotes.

francieWelcome to a celebration of Lila Nelson’s incredible life. During the evening we will touch on some of the things that made Lila an inspiration to so many people and such an amazing friend. Not only was Lila a talented artist with a natural affinity for color, she was also a lover of words.

When Lila was still living in her beautiful home she started to become unsteady on her feet so a group of her weaving friends, myself, Katherine Buenger, Sue Fairchild, Mary Skoy & Phyllis Wagoner decided she needed help getting her laundry up to the second floor from the basement laundry room. We met for lunch to discuss a weekly schedule; one of us said we can call ourselves the washer women. Lila sat there a moment and said, no that wasn’t a good enough name for us. She decided we would be the winsome wenches.

When we were planning this event there were two things we knew we had to serve, the first was red wine. Lila loved enjoying a good glass of wine with friends and even after moving into Lyngblomsten she made sure to have a box of red wine on the shelf behind her books to have when friends would stop by for a visit. She said it was ok to have it in her room as long as it was concealed.

The second was black coffee. The first time my husband met Lila we took her to dinner. After the meal she ordered her coffee black and bitter. She then entertained us with the following story which she loved to tell. One time while ordering her coffee black and bitter her tall black waitress looked down at her and said, “Honey that’s how I like my men”.

Two obituaries appeared in the Minneapolis newspaper, the Star Tribune: a staff written one,, and one written by Claire Selkurt,

In addition to the celebration of Lila’s life, this issue also includes three articles about aspects of the most recent Vesterheim tour to Norway.  Those stories are yet another celebration of Lila’s legacy, as she was instrumental in starting the tours many years ago.

Lucky Vesterheim Textile Tour Participants

Lucky Vesterheim Textile Tour Participants


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.



Lila Nelson’s Celebration: Lisa Torvik and Neil Mikesell

Lisa Torvik: I met Lila and Marion when I was about 12 or 13 (1965 or 1966), not too long after they took over the museum and my mom, among many other moms, was a volunteer there.  They roped us kids in as volunteers, especially during Nordic Fest.  I took my first class from Lila when I was 15, in backstrap weaving.  I had done a little weaving before that on a loom my mom bought at a farm sale and set up. My experiences with the Nelsons were like those of everyone else here: I knew them as creative, witty, charming,  and inspiring people.

I sent an invitation to the celebration to Lila’s LPN, John Maidl.  He was an important member of Lila’s caregiving team at Lyngblomsten.  This was his email response:

Thank you so much for sharing the invitation. I had some knowledge that a service was being planned for some time in June but was not aware of the details until your email. I really appreciate the invitation to attend and to sit with you. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend. Please pass along my appreciation to everyone. We were honored to have Lila in our community. She was a remarkable woman and I believe she had a good life here with us. She was a valued member of our “family”. I have an autographed tile from the museum and I will always cherish it. Lila was blessed to be surrounded by a rich group of friends and a wonderful niece and cousin. She knew she was loved and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters. Thank you for all the kindness you have shared with Lila and the staff of the Boss Neighborhood at Lyngblomsten. God bless you all! John

Neil Mikesell:  I knew Lila not as a weaver, but a lover of poetry, someone who actually liked to read poetry. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but Lila began reading my poetry. I wrote quite a bit in the later years of her life and it seemed to bring out the former English teacher when she read them. If I hit the mark, she said so, enthusiastically. If I missed the mark, she let me know by finding something to compliment such as a particular line. Every time we visited, which was almost every week, she would say “Have you been writing?” If I had nothing new, I felt a little like a got an F for the day.

Of all my poems Lila read, and there were around 150, this is the one she seemed to like the most:

an old guitar

played on an old guitar
so mellowed by time
the warmth and wisdom
fills the room like the fireplace
and its aged oak flames
the pipe caressing the chords
with the lilting melody
a voice coming in
gliding on the delicate notes
an old song
a poem of lives lost
in a long ago war
wives and lovers
left to mourn alone
seems as written only yesterday
the flowers die
new ones grow
killing ends
and starts again
played on an old guitar
mellowed by time
seems as written only yesterday

Lisa and Neal took Lila to Dassel this spring for the opening of the "Nordic Roots" exhibit

Lisa and Neil took Lila to Dassel this spring for the opening of the “Nordic Roots” exhibit

Lila Nelson Celebration: Claire Selkurt

Lila – The Gentle Activist

There are so many aspects of Lila’s full life that are worthy of admiration. I first met Lila in 1969 when I was at St. Olaf. I had come into Minneapolis to interview Marion for research for my Senior Honor’s paper. Lila and Marion had just recently won a red Mustang in some charity raffle. It was their first car. It made a big impression when Marion pulled up to take me to their home from the bus station. After graduation, I moved to the Cities and took my first weaving class from Lila at the Weavers Guild.

To me, as Marion’s doctoral advisee, Lila was always the warm and gracious hostess, the woman behind the great man.   It wasn’t actually until after Marion’s death that Lila and I began to form a closer friendship. I came to recognize Lila as a very talented artist with a streak of playfulness, who, for example, loved joining our friends for performances by Lily’s Burlesque.

Beyond this, I also discovered that she was something of a political activist. Some of you may recall that basket of magazines that she kept in her weaving room – publications for the most part left of Mother Jones. During her active computer period she would occasionally forward left wing screeds that made even my hair curl. She proudly stood beside Dianne and me during more than one GLBT rights rally and, as you saw in the slide show, she was also out there protesting the war in Iraq. (See the slide show here.)

Among my favorite tapestries are Lila’s animal terrorists – Lila’s commentary on what she saw as a paranoid government infringing on basic civil rights. Most stunning of all was her tapestry inspired by Abu Ghraib, in which she juxtaposed the iconic hooded figure against a crucifix. These works embody many of the things that made Lila special: her intellectual curiosity; a sense of humor that could be wry, even subversive, but never cynical and her great compassion for others. These were also qualities that made her a wonderful friend and a role model for all of us.

Claire is an art historian who taught at Minnesota State University, Mankato and the University of St. Thomas. 


Lila Nelson Celebration: Wendy Stevens

I first saw Albert the Alligator at the 2005 Midwest Weavers Conference at Lakeland College near Sheboygan, WI. Lila had entered him in the individual member exhibit, and although this tapestry did not receive a ribbon, it was totally Lila—a billedvev done to perfection of this rather endearing “monster”inspired by Albert the Alligator, a real alligator who made his annual appearance at the Minnesota State Fair and was known to sit on his trainer’s lap reading a book, so Lila told me. In the tapestry Lila had added a number of whimsical characteristics to Albert such as a little fire breathing and plaque on his teeth—Lila was especially fond of the plaque she had put on Albert’s teeth. She initially felt that having Albert displayed in a dental office would have been perfect.


I asked Lila if she would consider selling “him”, but she told me Albert wasn’t ready to leave home yet. Furthermore, she was at a point in her life where she was not going to sell him, but barter a trade.   And what kinds of trades had she previously made? The most recent had been for a catered dinner party at her home for good-sized group—the number 24 guests is in my head—that may not be accurate, but it was a large group. It seemed way out of my ability to come up with an appropriate trade for Albert. I had taken a billedvev tapestry course from Lila at Vesterheim, and I was well aware of how much time and skill went into Albert not to mention the cost of the materials.

A couple of months later, Lila emailed me saying that she was coming to Decorah for the Norwegian Textile Conference and she would bring Albert with her. Was I still willing to barter? You bet! I emailed back a list of possibilities, and during the conference Lila and her good friend Marianne Vigander came to our house for an evening waffle supper so they could try some of our maple syrup and raspberry sauce.

My husband and I live in an old log house in a wooded valley and have always enjoyed gardening and I guess you would say “homesteading activities”. So my portion of the barter was for items that we produced in our valley. The final trade: 4 quarts of maple syrup, 1 pint of honey, 1 pint of raspberry sauce, 2 cups of granola, 1 cup of dried morels, 4 one-pound packages of frozen venison, 2 loaves of homemade bread, 1 packet of basil pesto, 3 containers of homemade cookies, 1 decorative gourd, 1 butternut squash, 3 onions, 2 pounds of carrots, and 10 potatoes. I also sent Lila and Marianne back to the hotel with waffles and syrup for breakfast the next day.

From later conversation I think that Lila was quite pleased with our trade. I certainly was. Whenever I look at Albert hanging on our wall, I think of a most kind, generous, dedicated, creative and amazing woman, Lila Nelson. May we all follow in her footsteps.

Wendy Stevens is a long-time friend of Lila’s and a member of the Oneota Weavers Guild.

Lila Nelson Celebration: Mary Skoy

(Editor’s note:  Mary finished off the reminiscences with a funny and so-appropriate anecdote, after which all the assembled friends and family ate and drank, knowing so much more about their dear friend.)

Lila and I shared a laugh at this difference between English and Norwegian idioms.    I was a student in a weaving class at Vesterheim in the 1980s taught by Oline Bredele, a wonderful weaving teacher from Molde, Norway.  At the end of the week, the class decided to celebrate with a picnic lunch at one of Decorah’s parks.  I asked the local bakery to decorate a cake for the occasion, thanking our teacher for a good class.  I asked them to write “Takk for Alt,” using the small knowledge I had of Norwegian.  When I unwrapped the cake, Lila and Oline could not contain their giggles and then laughter at my unfortunately misguided attempt to thank them for everything.  They explained to me  that “Takk for Alt” is translated, “Rest in Peace” and appears on tombstones all over Norway.

So,  as we celebrate the extraordinary life of our friend, I  am able to say Takk for Alt, Lila.

A random tombstone, somewhere in Norway.

A random tombstone, somewhere in Norway.

Vesterheim Tour 2015: Studio Visits

007The perfect end to a wonderful tour in Norway was a visit to the island studio of two talented textile artists.  Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Kari Steihaug share space on Hovedøya, which is a three-minute ferry ride from Oslo City Hall.  We had the opportunity to meet both women, see some work up close, and enjoy a slide show with examples of other beautiful, creative, and inspiring works.

Inger Johanne Rasmussen spent many years as an instructor of weaving and created art on the loom (see Horisont, Horizontal, a doubleweave in wool and silk, ca. 1995).  Since 2000 she has used recycled wool fabric to create large, colorful artworks that are reminiscent of quilts.  She uses what she calls intarsia technique to butt raw edges and hand stitch pieces together.  Until recently, she was using a large stash of army surplus foot wraps as her raw material.  The Norwegian military used squares of wool that soldiers wrapped around their feet rather than socks.  She dyes the wool, cuts the necessary shapes, adds a stabilizer, then stitches everything together into stunning wall hangings.

005She is often inspired by textiles used throughout history and by people from all layers of society, such as a red gingham tablecloth.  Many of her works combine beauty with a twinge of unease, as Solveig Lønnmo puts it in her introduction to Stitching Between Dragons and Trees of Paradise.  That tablecloth brings to mind memories of pleasant breakfasts in grandmother’s sunny kitchen.  But the tablecloth also witnessed quarrels, tears, and betrayals.

There is much to enjoy in Inger Johanne’s work.  The color effects are stunning and there is usually a small surprise.  There might be a small bee or a chair or a house in what looks at first like an all-floral design.  She might change the scale of motifs, switch from positive to negative, or creep beyond borders for stunning effects.


Lysthus / Gazebo, 2002 (on the wall) and Overlevering / Passed Down, 2005 (on the floor)

Nice ViewKari Steihaug has done a variety of works featuring knitting.  Knitting brings nature and warmth into office spaces of metal and glass.  She also uses recycled materials for many artworks.  She did a series where she partially unraveled knit items and reknit the yarn into tapestries.  The garments for Little Madonna were found in melting snow piles in the spring.  Kari says that she likes the wavy traces of stitches.  She sees them as a personal handwriting embedded in the yarn that isn’t easily washed away.  For 4 Klasse / 4th Class, she collected 21 sweaters to represent those in a 1967 class photo in which all of the children were wearing handknit garments.


4th Class (photo by Thor Westrebø)

The Unfinished Ones is an exhibition to capture the stories embedded in small beginnings and unfinished garments.  The stories reveal pleasures, expectations, and disappointments.  For example, Item 9872: “When I was 5 years old and learned how to knit, I wanted to make a scarf in all the seasons’ colours.  But because I have since had so many exciting knitting projects, my first will remain a dream.” Sibel Rotås Eser, 9 1/2 years old, Oslo.”

9877Item 9877 (Socks):  “A Christmas gift for a boyfriend.  He got one for them for Christmas with a promise of getting a second one by New Year’s. Winter passed and spring came and our love ended.  The socks have been lying in my knitting basket since 1987.  Thank you for allowing me to get rid of my bad conscious!”  The “pair” (one and three-quarters socks) were donated anonymously during an exhibition in 2005.  There’s poetry in imperfection, Kari says.


For more on Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Kari Steihaug, see:
Å sy mellom drager og paradistrær / Stitching Between Dragons and Trees of Paradise: Tapestries by Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Myths by Terje Nordby. Oslo: Inger Johanne Rasmussen, c. 2014.
Kari Steihaug, Arkiv: De ufullendte [Archive: The Unfinished Ones]. Oslo: Magikon Forlag, 2011. Read the introduction in English.

Note:  Photos are by the artists or by Laurann Gilbertson, unless noted, and used with permission.

Laurann Gilbertson is the Chief Curator of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and the leader of the 2015 Vesterheim to Norway.