Tapestry Treasures that leave Sweden and Norway

In January I posted a photo on a Swedish Facebook weaving group site, of many tapestries on the floor of my studio building. They were laid out to organize an exhibit, “Tapestry Treasures from the Collection of Carol Johnson” up at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota from January 12-April 12, 2019. They are part of the collection of Carol Johnson, a friend and avid Minneapolis collector of Scandinavian textiles.  A popular show of her Scandinavian textiles in a variety of techniques was on view in 2018; this time it is a show of just her Norwegian and (mostly) Swedish tapestries.

A Swedish weaver, Majlis Månsson, posted a comment on this photo, “Synd att denna konstskatt utvandrat ftån Sverige.” (Too bad that these artistic treasures wandered away from Sweden) Yes! No! Her comment brought up too many feelings to write a quick Facebook reply. 

Carol purchased most of these pieces on eBay, and paid relatively little for them.  On a few occasions, the postage cost more than the weaving. Many are clearly pieces made by weavers who wove flamsk as a hobby; I’ve identified several patterns that appeared in Swedish books of weaving instruction.  Some are woven beautifully; others are done by less experienced weavers. To me, the sad part is not that they traveled away from Sweden, but that they have traveled away from the families of the weavers.  Aren’t there grandchildren or relatives or friends who value the time-consuming and lovingly done work?  Carol told me at the beginning of last summer that she looks forward to summer because that’s when the eBay dealers pick up lots of textiles at Swedish flea markets and post them for sale.

Some of Carol’s nicest and most valuable pieces (both in tapestry and other types of weaving), were purchased at local estate sales or from a prominent dealer in Scandinavian antiques.  Those pieces likely came from the estates of people who bought the tapestries while in Sweden or Norway, or which maybe came from Scandinavian ancestors who emigrated to this country.

Through the wonders of the Web and digital access, we can share these weavings, investigate them, and use them for instruction of new tapestry weavers. It’s sad when weavings, or other art works, are remain tucked in cupboards or boxes. So, on the one hand it is sad that the tapestries are no longer owned by friends and family, but good that they are being shared and appreciated. (Thank you, Carol Johnson!)

As a weaver, my personal campaign echos that of my friend Mary Skoy, who is always admonishing her friends, “Sign and date your work!” Almost none of the Carol Johnson’s eBay finds have dates or names attached. All weavers should label and document their work and ensure that at least a portion of it lands in the hands of relatives and friends that appreciate it, and that tapestry traditions are celebrated.

I have one more personal opinion about weaving.  It is wonderful and instructive to weave samples and reproductions and patterns from books, but weaving a personal idea or design is an even better use of your time at the loom. Here’s my favorite recent example of a personal tapestry.  My friend Claire Most brought this piece for “show and tell” at our Scandinavian Weavers Study Group holiday party.  Her son is a biologist of some sort, and works with mushrooms.  “I don’t know if he wants a mushroom for Christmas,” she told us, “but that’s what he is getting!”

I think this mushroom will outlive Claire!