Last summer I had the great pleasure of attending a workshop with Helena Hernmarck at the American Swedish Institute. By the end of class we learned the language of her technique and could look at each piece with new understanding, but three days weren’t nearly enough for her “Shadow to Light” workshop. What we missed in time on the loom, however, was balanced by the unique opportunity to see Helena’s weavings on display. I visited the exhibit, “In Our Nature: The Tapestries of Helena Hernmarck,” six times following the workshop. (Rebecca Matzoff did a smashing job of documenting the workshop and Helena’s work on her blog.)
Helena’s remarkable tapestry technique is created with bundles of yarn, rather than individual threads, so color combinations can have tremendous variation and subtlety. For each two background shots of weft, a pattern weft is added. The pattern weft can float over more than one warp thread; the floating threads add texture. By varying the lengths of floats and whether the pattern threads are the same or different than the background threads below, the magic unfolds – sharp edges, fuzzy edges, heavy texture, or popping color. Seen from afar, the pieces gain a photo-realist effect.
Even though I learned the Hernmarck language, so to speak, doesn’t mean I can interpret it well on my own loom! I used my Hagen tapestry loom for the sample in class. FOR A YEAR, I planned to weave another small piece on the backside of the loom, in preparation for weaving a large piece. Finally, the little piece is done, and it was a big challenge.
Last year I took many wheat harvest photos in my brother’s fields. As I looked at the gold of the half-harvested field, I wondered if I could translate that landscape into Helena’s tapestry technique. And clouds! Could I weave those?
Keep in mind that to start, I was weaving a 10″ x 14″ tiny test. Umm, not like a Helena Hernmarck landscape measuring over 9 feet by 14 feet! Check this one out. Because the scale of the piece was so small, I used thinner bundles of yarn. The process was enormously instructive, even if the scale was not large enough to really take advantage of the technique.
I mentioned this was a test piece, and I am going to weave a larger piece. I wanted to add a combine in the field. My original plan was to have mostly landscape, and a small harvester. But when I went through my harvest photos, I liked an image of the John Deere harvester and red truck beside it. My friend Steve Bigler, who is a landscape painter, concurred. I’m working on the cartoon now and I’ll have to keep going since I have now announced my plans publicly.
I brought the piece to my Scandinavian Weavers group this month and my friend Mary Skoy said, “Are you going to give it to your brother?” Sure, Jon can have it if he wants it!