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