Carol Johnson’s collection includes the head of a figure in the famous Norwegian Baldishol tapestry. The Baldisol Tapestry is the most spectacular historical Norwegian tapestry, but this detail of the image, and the cartoon, are likely Swedish.
It’s one of the few pieces in the collection with the date of completion on the back. (Tapestry weavers, let’s all repeat in unison the constant advice of my friend Mary Skoy–PUT A DATE ON YOUR WEAVINGS.)
A cartoon for this weaving is included in the Swedish Digital Museum site, from the collection of Vänersborgs museum. Full record: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011025163588/monster-vavning. The record says it is from Johanna Brunssons Vävskola (a weaving school).
The Baldishol tapestry was discovered all balled up and covered in clay, under a footrest of a sexton of a church at Baldishol in Hedmark, when the 17th century church was demolished in 1879. It was discovered by a local woman, who stopped by a few days after an auction of items from the church. She took it home, cleaned it, and hung it in her home. That is where the director of the Kristiania Museum of Applied Industry saw it and purchased it. When it was studied closely, it was dated as sometime after 1180, and likely the mid-1200s. It was woven with spelsau wool and only a fragment remains. It is now considered one of the most valuable artifacts in the museum, which is now the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, part of the National Museum.
It is 46” high; that would have been the width of the loom. The fragment is 80” wide and represents two months of the year; April and May. The entire work probably included all twelve months. It was clearly woven by a professional weaver, even though it appeared a bit freer, stylistically, than the other Roman-era tapestries found in Germany. It is believed that the tapestry was woven in Norway, but some have speculated that it may have been German, English, French, or even Spanish. It could have been a commissioned work or could have been woven by a foreign weaver in Norway. It could have been brought to Norway by the Catholic Church or another donor.
It has stylistic similarities to the famous Bayeaux tapestry. The equipment and clothing of the horseman in the Baldishol tapestry resemble William the Conquerer’s advancing soldiers. The Bayeux Tapestry, a very detailed embroidery and not a tapestry at all, was sewn around 1070 to 1090, to commemorate the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
For a more detailed history of the Baldishol tapestry, read this description on my favorite Norwegian tapestry site, Absolutetapestry.com.
Because it was so important to the history of Norwegian tapestry, many copies have been woven over the years. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has three copies! Curator Laurann Gilbertson provided images of the best two.
One was probably woven by Kristi Sexe Meland, a weaver from Hardanger. In 1927 she opened her own weaving school and studio. She also wove a copy of the Baldishol tapestry that was presented to President and Mrs. Coolidge in 1925.
Amalie Pettersen Guttersen from St. Paul, Minnesota, made a copy too. She studied tapestry weaving in Norway and had the yarns dyed there. Amalie was on the planning committee for the Norse-American Centennial in 1925 and was inspired to learn Norwegian weaving, having seen the Baldishol copy that was given to the Coolidges in connection with the Norse-American Centennial.
I’ve even woven a tapestry using motifs from the Baldishol, at a Vesterheim workshop on billedvev (tapestry) in the 1980s. It was taught by the wonderful Norwegian instructor Ingebjorg Vaagen. I wove a fish based on a carved fish bowl in the Vesterheim collection, and used elements of the Baldishol tapestry. Note the wave patterns on my weaving are found on the edge of the Baldishol, my fish dots echo those on the horse, and the shape of the seaweed behind the fish resembles the leaf-like form behind the left-hand figure. I also used the fish fins to try out billedvev joins and patterns.