July 14, 2015 Leave a comment
Last fall Anita Jain, founder of Common Strands, a Minnesota nonprofit, sent out a call for textile artists who were interested in submitting pieces for a show celebrating Nordic heritage. The “Deep Roots” exhibit was held at the Dassel History Center from March 28-April 25, 2015. If you are traveling to Finland soon, you can catch the exhibit at its second venue, the National Craft Museum of Finland in Jyväskylä, until August 23. The Minneapolis opening in Dassel was well-attended, and the opening in Finland attracted over 100 visitors, many from Helsinki, over four hours away. Several of the U.S. artists attended the Finnish opening, although none of five Scandinavian Weavers Study Group members who were part of the show.
Included in the show is a notebook with information about the artists and the inspiration for their pieces. Here are the submissions from five members of our Scandinavian Weavers group.
Mary Lonning Skoy
Bio: I have been involved in the fiber community in Minnesota since the early 70s as a weaver, spinner, knitter, and frame loom weaving teacher. I wrote a booklet, Weaving on a Frame Loom: A First Project, to help weavers learn to weave with a rigid heddle loom. I organized an after school knitting club teaching dozens of teens to knit. Walking down the halls of Minnetonka High School seeing kids sitting at their lockers knitting is one of my cherished memories of 32 years there as an English teacher. I have written articles which have appeared in Handwoven Design Collection #4, Handwoven and SpinOff magazines, Weavers Journal, and A Thread through Time, the Weavers Guild of Minnesota’s 75th Anniversary book.
Inspiration: I trace my fiber roots to my Norwegian/Irish mother who taught me to knit and further back to my Norwegian great aunt Sunniva Lønning, a fiber artist, teacher, and activist in mid twentieth century Norway working to preserve ancient sheep breeds in Norway, particularly the spelsau sheep. The family textiles I saw when I visited my father’s cousins on the island of Stord off the western coast of Norway are the “deep roots” of the textile arts I pursue today. I learned the twined knitting (tvebandstrikk) technique from Hege Therese Nilsen in Bergen, Norway. The inspiration for these twined mittens was a pair of folk socks (sjonaleister) typical of the Hordaland region of Norway from the early 19th century.
The multi colored cuff of the traditional festive socks became the cuff for my mittens, very wearable “art” for Minnesota winters.
Marilyn Moore was born in upstate New York, but has been a Minnesotan since 1974, when she and her husband moved here.
Bio and inspiration: My Swedish heritage started in America in 1912 when my Grandfather Olaf Anderson arrived at Ellis Island from Lund, Sweden. The home where he was born in 1887, and the school he attended, still exist. Growing up, he rang the bells on Sunday at the Lund Cathedral, as his father and grandfather had done before him. I have traced his family back to 1789. His first home here was in Bayridge, New York, where many of the Scandinavian immigrants first lived. He was a mason and worked on many of the buildings and bridges built at that time in New York City.
Olaf met my Grandmother Svea Magnusson on the streets of New York. She was born in Hyppeln in Bohuslan, Sweden, an island off Gotenborg, in1890. Her father was a fisherman and some of the family are still fishing today. Svea also came to this country in 1912. Her family goes back to 1790. Svea and Olaf married and raised a family in Hook Creek on Long Island. She did not work outside the home.
My grandfather died a young man in his 60s. Svea lived into her 80s. She spent many summers at our home when I was growing up. She would sing a few songs in Swedish and the one I remember the most was Hälsa dem därhemma. I never knew the English translation until1980 when I joined the American Swedish Institute, thinking I would learn more about my Swedish heritage. At a Lucia performance the choir sang this song in Swedish and English. As I listened, I could hear my grandmother sing this song and I understood what she was singing. This is the chorus translated to English:
On the deck I stand at night, Greet my dear old mother,
when the stars above were bright, greet my father too,
far away from friends and home, and my little brother
lonely here I roam. when he welcomes you.
Swallows on their wings so high, If I had wings to follow,
now in spring they homeward fly, happy I would be
to the land where sunlight beams Dearest little swallow.
is my childhood dreams. greet them all for me.
My Grandmother never saw her mother or her father again, though she did go home once and saw her extended family and walked the island of Hyppeln where she was born. I joined a club at ASI called Svea (my grandmother’s name) and am still a member of it today. I took my mother, Inga, to Sweden where we met all her first cousins and walked the same island. There I left part of myself, as that is where my roots began.
Now as I look back at pictures, I see beautiful weavings that I never connected with at the time. I have been weaving for a little over five years. I lean toward the many beautiful Scandinavian techniques, still have much to learn.
Bio: My mom was a knitter and got me started when I was about 4 or 5, though I did not really start my own projects, for my Barbie on 00 needles, until I was about 8. Grammy T was a great needlewoman who taught me to sew when I was 9 or 10 on her treadle machine, since mom’s Singer scared me. The first loom I saw was the one mom brought home from a farm sale and set up, when I was about 12. I wove my first piece on that loom. (Her teacher at the University of Minnesota was Hilma Berglund, back in the early 1950s.) A couple years later, I got to know Lila and Marion Nelson when they came to work at the museum in my hometown, Decorah, Iowa, and I took my first backstrap class from Lila when I was 15. When I was 17, Grammy T. wanted me to join the first youth exchange group that went from Decorah to Valdres in Norway, and in the family I lived with for 6 weeks were twin sisters who had just finished a year at Valdres Husflidsskule (Home Craft School.) I was fascinated with all the things they had made and saw many old and precious textiles in the homes of that extended family. When I was 19, an uncle in that family got me a job at Valdres Folkemuseum, where I spent six months as the head guide, translated a visitor booklet to English and became more acquainted with the textile collection and history of women’s arts in Valdres. About 14 months later I applied to Valdres Husflidsskule and was admitted to the half year weaving program. I worked at the museum again that summer, setting up a loom (1701 was carved in the beater) with a plaid pattern that had been gleaned from old log chinking. I was allowed to stay another half year as an “extra” student at the husflidsskule during which I copied advanced patterns from our principal’s own workbook, wove a number of projects and attended a month-long course in plant dyeing and spinning at the Buskerud husflidsskule in Gol. My work was included with school exhibits in Norway, I have demonstrated tapestry weaving at Vesterheim in Decorah, and shown and sold some pieces at a yarn shop where I worked in the 1970s. Since then I have given away most of my woven and knit projects.
Lisa wrote about her inspiration for making a “rull” for her wedding in 2009:
“There are many, widely varying types of wedding headdress in the Norwegian tradition. Some are truly crowns, of silver or gold belonging to the wealthiest of families, or beaded and decorated with ribbon, quartz and glass in others. The tradition of a Valdres “rull” was documented in the early 1800s by watercolor sketches of visiting artists and its most significant distinction from other regions is that while worn back on the head, it is open and shows the bride’s hair, curled in a braid. As an unmarried girl, her hair braid would be wrapped in a woven braid and outlined by a beaded piece called a “lad” and wrapped in a silk scarf. The wedding “rull” is a structured piece, sometimes built up on a wood frame. It was decorated with gold medallions and wrapped with a silk scarf. A married woman wore her “rull” in the same way but the back is closed with a lace-like covering done in “sprang” technique. Widows would wear a much simpler “rull” sometimes even just a dark color, if they remarried. As an “older bride” I wanted to combine the beading technique of the girl’s “lad” with the shape and style of the “rull” and I copied the basic pattern of the beaded belt I wear on my jacket, a belt that I made several years ago with the instruction of my “host mom” and which was finished with a silver buckle that was a gift from my “host sister.” I embellished my “rull” a little more with a border of white pearl-like beads and fresh water pearls.”
Lisa wrote about her Norwegian inspiration for a weaving in transparency technique:
“My favorite weaver in history is Frida Hansen, a Norwegian woman who was an artist, hands-on weaver and an entrepreneur at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. From virtually self-taught beginnings in her hometown Stavanger, her work eventually reached the public, the nobility and museums of continental Europe and the USA, as well as Norway. Her tapestries were shown at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893 and the Paris Exhibition of 1900, among many others. In 1897, she was granted a patent on a new technique, which she called “open ornamentation,” which consisted of tapestry-like weaving in which the weft floated on open warp threads, allowing light to pass through or “transparency.” This “transparent” technique is my favorite of hers and for this transparency study I have used two weights of linen, woven on a tapestry loom for stable and tight tension. The pattern is taken from the “overall background pattern” of a sweater I knit some years ago.”
Bio and inspiration: Most of my ancestors were Swedish—all my grandparents but one were born of first-generation immigrants—I’ve always felt a close connection to my heritage. The Swedes who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries worked very hard to succeed in a new land while also retaining their native language and culture. They built churches, cultural centers, and universities, initially conducting activities in Swedish.
Many members of my family attended one such university: Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. My father also taught history at Augustana for many years.
In the art department at Augustana was a huge, mysterious wooden contraption—a Swedish-style loom. When I was a little girl, it seemed as big as a house! I was fascinated by it and promised myself that one day I would learn to weave.
That day came many years later, after I had moved north to Minnesota and became a member of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. I was immediately drawn to learning the Nordic styles of weaving I remembered from my childhood, especially wool and cotton rugs.
In 2014 the American Swedish Institute, located in Minneapolis, sponsored an exhibit called The Living Tradition of Ryijy—Finnish Rugs and their Makers. The exhibit included dozens of ryijy weavings from the famed collection of Dr. Tuomas Sopanen. For the first time, I was able to see these remarkable weavings up close. I was enthralled by the bold colors, complex textures, and tremendous skill of the weavers. Visiting artist Siiri Korhonen gave a lecture on the important place these weavings hold in the history and culture of the Finnish people.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Weavers Guild of Minnesota offered a class in ryijy, taught by master weaver Jan Mostrom. The piece I am submitting to Deep Roots is the one I wove in Jan’s class.
Inspired by the exhibit, I decided to take a bold approach to design. My rjijy was inspired by “Moonlight,” a painting by Edvard Munch from 1895. I was fascinated by the way Munch captured the glint of moonlight on water. I replicated the effect by adding linen, which catches the light, to the wool knots. I also used a pale yellow yarn in the moonlit sections to draw the viewer’s eye—as Munch does in the painting that I admire so much.
My rjijy is a definite nod to my Nordic ancestry. The rich legacy that my immigrant forebears bequeathed to our family included a deep love of the natural world—and a certain melancholy temperament. I feel that Munch captured both in his painting and hope I conveyed the same in my ryijy.”
Inspiration: The deep roots of the wheat being harvested in this field lead back to Norway and my great-grandfather who homesteaded in Bygland Township in northwestern Minnesota. My childhood included countless trips with my father and grandfather to check on the crops, and as a teenager I drove the truck during harvest. My brother Jon Wurden continues to farm. The weaving is based on a photo taken during my father’s dying days, two years ago, which coincided with the harvest of this section of land. Early that summer, on the last day my father was able to drive, he drove his pickup to check the newly-planted wheat in this field.
I moved to the city as an adult but my life will never be complete without visiting the farm each summer. I have to check the fields.
Members of the Scandinavian Weavers Interest Group have had pieces on exhibit in several venues recently. You can see works from the just-ended exhibit, “Through the Years: Scandinavian Weavers Study Group,” on their blog, Scandinavian Weavers Study Group.
Several members have weavings on view at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum as part of the National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition. Be sure to catch it before it ends on July 25.
As an adjunct to this summer’s Midwest Weavers Conference, the work of several interest groups from the Weavers Guild of Minnesota are on view in the gallery of the O’Shaunessy auditorium on the University of St. Thomas campus until early August. The keystone of the exhibit is the recent Rag Rug Interest group display, “Urban Graffiti.” Other groups are represented in covered cases. In the Scandinavian Weavers Interest group case you can see works by Jan Mostrom, Lila Nelson, Lisa Torvik, Keith Pierce, Mary Skoy, and Melba Grandlund.
And finally, an exhibit of my textile interpretations of Edvard Munch’s “Scream” painting are at the American Swedish Institute, “Scream (In Stitches).”