A Wonderful Scanian Art Weaves Adventure

For the new issue of The Norwegian Textile Letter, Edi Thorstensson did a wonderful job of gathering the thoughts and images of several lucky Americans who took a Swedish Art Weaves course last summer in Landskrona, Sweden. Like me, you will be sad you were not there too!

A Wonderful Scanian Art Weaves Adventure
Weaving the Art Weaves of Skåne
Inspiration, Outreach, and Connection  
Gunvor Johansson’s Exhibit at Bosjökloster
Fika and the Joy of Lingonberry Cake

all-samples

In the same issue, don’t miss the article about the enduring image of The Wise and Foolish Virgins in Norwegian billedvev (tapestry) and about Annemor Sundbø’s adventures in processing nettles for fiber.   The Norwegian Textile Letter

A Multi-Generation Weaving Story

History. Color. Amazing workmanship. Funny images. Text and depth in fiber. You will find these things in pieces in the exhibit at Norway House, “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot,” up from July 20-September 10.  You will also find stories. In two small tapestries at Norway House you can find a three-generation weaving story that  stretches from Norway to Minnesota.

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Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom.

Inga Berg, born in 1897 in Lier, Norway, married artist Hans Berg in 1921.  They studied art on a months-long honeymoon throughout Europe. In 1929 Inga studied weaving theory at Sister Bengston’s weaving school in Oslo, Norway. She was prolific in spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and sewing.  Often Hans would create a pattern for his adoring wife to weave.

Inga’s daughter Ellen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1924. While in Norway, she became a registered nurse and a medical technologist. During WWII she helped hide her soon to be brother-in-law Gunnar Lislerud in the attic of their home.   After WWII, in the 1950s, Ellen, along with her parents, moved to Minneapolis.

Ellen the WeaverEllen married Don Anderson in 1958 and they had two children, Kent and Karin.  She was an excellent strawberry farmer, beekeeper, weaver, painter, cook and caregiver.  She took care of both of her parents; Inga lived to the age of 106.

Ellen had a love for weaving and her homeland, so she joined the Weavers Guild of Minnesota and the Scandinavian Weavers group. Inspired by her mother’s work, she took a tapestry class at the Weavers Guild and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  Ellen liked to use tapestry patterns from Norway that were sold for studying tapestry weaving, like this image of the girl and the cow. There is no doubt this same weaving is found on the walls of many Norwegian homes, too.

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In this particular weaving Ellen was interested in perfecting her tapestry techniques, and learning the various types of joining techniques that are characteristic of billedvev, Norwegian tapestry. This was Ellen’s last weaving before she died suddenly in 2003. She left an unfinished dream: to weave a picture of her beloved strawberry farm.

That brings us to the present, and the continuing weaving story of Karin Maahs, Ellen’s daughter, a member of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and a relatively new weaver. Karen relates the story of her tapestry in the American Reboot show.

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Karin Maahs

My inspiration was from the love of my mother.  For years my mom wanted me to draw a weaving for her of our strawberry farm.  After my mother’s death, I inherited all of my her and my grandmother’s wool, looms, spinning wheels, books and weaving journals. I initially joined the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group in 2003-2005.  I took some beginning floor loom classes to learn how to use my mom’s loom.  I was home schooling my children at the time so I stopped weaving and focused on them.  After both my kids started college I could not stop the burning desire to work with the loom again. The big question was, “What should I start with?”

I knew there was some very special yarn in my stash, Kunstvevgarn Spelsau yarn in every color of the rainbow, shipped from my aunt in Norway to my mother.  In an attempt to honor my mom, grandmother and aunt I decided to weave the tapestry my mom always wanted to do, a picture of “The Farm.”  At first it was intimidating because I knew nothing about how to start.  After some great encouragement from my mom’s Scandinavian weaving friends, and a plethora of books I inherited, I dove in.  My thought was—I know I can paint this, so why not treat the yarn like it was paint?  It didn’t take long to absolutely fall in love with working in wool.  Especially this wool… my mom’s wool.

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Karin has two grown children. Perhaps it is time to stretch the weaving tradition to a fourth generation? The Weavers Guild of Minnesota is a perfect place to learn.

Mark your calendars for a trip to Norway House between July 20 and September 10.  Come to the opening! Thursday, July 20, 5-8 pm.

 

 

 

 

A Virgin and Violence: Lila Nelson’s Weaving at the American Reboot Exhibit

IMG_1904Lila Nelson, who died in 2015 at age 93, was the Registrar and Curator of Textiles at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum for 27 years, and a mentor to many of the weavers whose works are in the “Traditional Norwegian Textiles: American Reboot” show. No retrospective of American weaving in the Norwegian tradition would be complete without her work.

Two of Lila’s tapestries, both owned by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, are included in the American Reboot exhibit.  One is a “virgin” with a puffy skirt.  Many people who are fans of Norwegian tapestry, or billedvev (literally, picture-weaving), weave one of the virgins from the most popular medieval weaving motif, the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Lila wove one with attitude, and with a distinctive skirt.  She wove the tapestry on a floor loom and used a clever combination of loom-controlled weave structure along with billedvev technique. When she wove the image of the woman, the threads in the “H” technique of the background floated behind, and she wove the figure in tapestry (billedvev). Perhaps it was unintentional, but that technique made the skirt pouf out.

virgin-foolishMost of the virgins in the old tapestries held stylized small squares to their faces.  (See the detail here, from a Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry owned by MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) On Lila’s virgin, there is no doubt that the foolish virgin is crying into a substantial and functional handkerchief. This piece shows Lila’s lifetime love of experimentation in her weaving. It was also chosen because the exhibit will include many other virgin interpretations, showing the influence of that design in traditional Norwegian weaving.

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Lila’s other tapestry in the show illustrates another characteristic of Lila’s work–her frequent commentary on politics and world events.

9.3 Tree of death (2'5"x2'1")

Tree of Death. Lila Nelson, 2004

 

It was inspired by the photo, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on May 10, 2004.  Here are Lila’s comments, as related in an interview with Sam Iverson.

“I saw an image of how they were treating some of the prisoners to get them to talk at Abu Ghraib and I thought this was quite horrifying. I think you can see that I turned this [image] into a cross-like thing and the AG stands for Abu Ghraib. At the bottom are impersonal guards or soldiers. The characters at the top are “vultures” that are in charge of all this. The designs on the garment are being ironic. They are from one of the Finnish runic alphabets and they are sort of the letters for love.”

Only two pieces from Lila’s loom are in the American Reboot exhibit, but her influence, whether through acquiring textiles for Vesterheim, or mentoring aspiring weavers, can be directly tied to many other weavings on view.

Explore more about Lila’s work in these online articles.

The Tapestries of Lila Nelson: Poetry, Myth, and Protest. This article was published at the time of an exhibit of her work at the Textile Center of Minnesota, November 2 – December 16, 2015. Also, this document includes images and commentary from the show. (Warning: it is a large file and will load very slowly.)

From Tradition to Protest: Lila Nelson’s Weaving Life.  An overview of a retrospective of Lila Nelson’s work at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, December 5, 2015 – November 16, 2016.

At a celebration of her life held on June 25, 2015, several friends spoke about Lila: Robbie LaFleur, Laurann Gilbertson, Carol Colburn, Lisa Torvik, Claire Selkurt, Wendy Stevens, and Mary Skoy.

The May 2012 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter was devoted to Lila and her work.

Watch a video interview by Sam Iverson about Lila’s political weavings, here.

A Tapestry with Soul

The “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit this summer at Norway House includes a beautiful, large (59.5″ H x 47″W) tapestry by Susan Gangsei.

Seal Skin Soul Skin

“Seal Skin, Soul Skin” by Susan Gangsei

 

Susan recounts the story: “Seal Skin, Soul Skin tells the story of a Selkie, a sea creature that can come up on land, take off her skin and dance in the moon light. One night a Selkie comes up on land and is dancing. A fisherman sees the Selkie and steals her skin so she cannot not go back home. He forces her to marry him and have his children in return for the promise to return her skin in 7 years. After 7 years the fisherman reneges on his promise to return her skin, so she begins to dry out. One of her children finds her skin, gives it back to her and she returns to her home the sea. Today she comes back to land to visit her children. This is a story of the renewal that come from returning home, returning to one’s whole and true self.”

More about Susan:

After weaving on a floor loom for many years, I was given an tapestry weaving class for a gift for my 50th birthday. Tapestry weaving become my passion and refuge.

My tapestries tell stories. They start out telling a story about my life and end up telling a story about human kind. As life has presented me with challenges, my weaving has told my story through universal and biblical stories. My husband had Parkinson’s Disease and I was given the role of caregiver. The Burning Bush tapestry tells of my conversation with God, telling him I did not want that role, just like Moses did not want to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The tapestry Jacob and the Angel tells the story of both the blessings and the wounds of being a caregiver, just like Jacob was wounded in his hip, yet blessed by God making him the father of Israel. The Seal Skin, Soul Skin tapestry talks about the need to renew oneself.

The current style of my designs come from my Nordic background. Nordic tapestry has a folk art tradition that is more representational and “flat.” Colors are limited and used carefully. The fabric is structurally sound with use of multiple kinds of joins versus slits. The weaving is complex with use of outlining and patterns.

Is Susan’s selkie tapestry a “reboot” of a traditional Norwegian style?  A tapestry owned by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum shows medieval similarities to the format of Susan’s tapestry.  The Adoration of the Magi is divided in a similar four-frame style.

You can see the tapestries that Susan references, along with other work, at her website: susangangsei.com

 

Scandinavian Heirloom Textiles

Over the years, my friends have told me about their fabulous old Scandinavian textiles — inherited from family or friends in “the Old Country;” found in out-of-the-way antique stores, thrift shops, garage sales, or flea markets; or even rescued from barns.  Let’s tell their stories!

Later this fall we will be mounting a display of historical textiles from the Nordic countries, along with their stories, on the walls of the Weavers Guild.  The items will also be featured in the upcoming (November) issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter.  Pieces will be submitted not only by the members of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group, but also by other Weavers Guild of Minnesota members.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Scandinavian Weavers, we saw great examples of old textile finds.  Jane Connett said that she had been a bit laid up recently, so she spent a lot of time on Ebay. Look at this beautiful Norwegian tapestry find.  It was advertised as an “Albanian kelim,” but fans of Norwegian tapestry know perfectly well that it is a replica of a portion of a Norwegian Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry.  It was faded on one side, but the colors were clear and strong on the other.  And since the weaving followed Norwegian tradition, all the ends were sewn in so that either side is equally beautiful.

virgin1virgin2

Jane said she didn’t remember how much she paid, but probably only around $25.

She also bought a beautiful small rolakan weaving.  Judy Larson noted that the loops on the back side, where the colors jump over a few threads, are typical of Swedish rolakans.

rite-uprite-back

Lisa Torvik showed a treasure-in-progress.  She rescued it from a friend’s barn, where it had supported feed sacks and whatever else needed a resting place. The bench was badly damaged, but still retained one crudely-carved dragon foot.  The top of the bench cover was so dirty that no color peeked through.  Was it even woven, or just embroidered, Lisa wondered.

barn-front

Once it was off the bench, however, you could see that it was a nicely-woven dukagang.

The mystery remains – will Lisa ever be able to retrieve color on the dirty front side?  She had just taken it off the bench hours earlier.  Perhaps we won’t know for a while, as several members of our group thought that waiting until winter for a thorough snow-washing might be the best route.

 

RED – Jan Mostrom

Memorial.  4″ x 4.5″ Tapestry.  Cotton warp, wool and perle cotton weft.

This tapestry is a memorial to Syvilla Bolson, a friend, fabulous weaver, and long-time supporter of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group.

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memorial-underway

Note that Syvilla is even wearing a Norwegian sweater in the tapestry.