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Searching for SOUTHWARD, a Missing Frida Hansen Tapestry

The most recent issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter included a mystery to solve–the location of a missing tapestry by Frida Hansen.  Read “Frida Hansen: Will We Ever See her Woven Swans and Maidens?

My research into finding Southward is pulling me into the life of its owner, Berthe Aske Bergh.  Bergh was a pupil of Frida Hansen, and the self-proclaimed first person to teach Norwegian billedvev in the United States.  She was an enthusiastic proponent of the magic of tapestry weaving.  An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 30, 1928, was titled “Tapestry–A Panacea for Overwrought Feminine Nerves.”

Everyone knows that the best thing to do with troubles is to forget them–but how? That is the problem that Mrs. Berthe Aske Bergh feels she has solved. Try tapestry weaving, she advises. As a matter of fact (and this is in confidence), she considers tapestry weaving an answer to a good many of the problems to which the modern woman is heiress.

Are your children too grown-up to require–or permit–motherly attention?  Are you on the verge of a breakdown or just recovering from one? Have you too much time on your hands? Have you so little time that you are running around in circles? Are you aching to express your under appreciated artistic temperament? Or are you just plain out of sorts?

Then, says Mrs. Bergh, look around you for a good subject for a wall piece, a curtain or a chair cover–your pet cat sitting on the back fence, the neighbors’ children playing games, any subject that appeals to you–and start in to learn to weave it.  By the time you can do it, and it takes only three or four months to be proficient, the unsolvable problems of your existence will have shrunk into nothingness and let themselves be blown away.

Wow!  I knew it.  And if that isn’t enough impetus to begin weaving a tapestry, there is the fountain-of-youth aspect as well.

Blue-eyed and dimpled, she herself does not look within ten years of the age she gave herself, and she attributes her youthful appearance and happy outlook to the work that has claimed her attention since she was a very young girl.

Besides the glowing recommendations for tapestry, the article included some useful facts.  Bergh’s tapestry collection was extensive. “Tapestries worth from $40 to $40,000 cover her walls cover her walls, are used on tables and chairs, and are laid away safely in trunks or boxes.”  Was Frida Hansen’s Southward the one worth the most money?  And what happened to Bergh’s collection as a whole? The article notes that Bergh owned “some” tapestries by Frida Hansen.

There was lovely detail in the description of Southward. “It is among Mrs. Hansen’s greatest work and is hung between two rooms at Mrs. Bergh’s home, with an arrangement of lights that permits the luminous quality of the tapestry–a very rare attribute–to be seen. The piece represents the seven goddesses of Norse mythology riding South on the backs of young swans, taking with them the sun, heat, and flowers they had brought North for the summer days. The water, the reins of the swans and the dresses of the goddesses are cleverly interwoven with sterling silver thread in a loose weave that, when the tapestry is viewed by transmitted light, gives the effect of phosphorescence on the water and dewdrops on the garments of the sea maidens.”

There was also detail about  when Berthe Aske Bergh studied with Frida Hansen; it was before she moved to the United States.

It happened that she lived in Stavanger, Norway, in those days, and Mrs. Frida Hansen, acknowledged the greatest tapestry weaver of modern times, lived in the same town. Mrs. Hansen, who died last year at the age of 74, was then a young woman, with a studio not far from Mrs. Bergh’s girlhood home. The latter became interested in the work of the neighborhood genius and was irresistibly drawn to the studio to watch her at the task which used to occupy women in the days of the Crusaders and long before.  Seeing the girl’s evident talent, Mrs. Hansen undertook to teach the future Mrs. Bergh her own method of weaving, with the result that the latter became an apt pupil and a bond of friendship grew up between the two women and was broken only by death.

I’m staying on the trail of Berthe Aske Berg’s life and hoping it will lead me to the missing Frida Hansen tapestry, Southward. I’m also interested in Bergh’s career as a teacher of billedvev.  More to come…

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