Frida Hansen Transparencies — What’s the Attraction?

Beautiful weather for a walk in Stavanger today. Oh, hello swan.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am in Norway as the result of a grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation, for which I am so grateful. My goal is to study the transparency tapestry technique of noted Norwegian tapestry weaver Frida Hansen, to spread the word about her work, and to figure out the best materials to use to weave in her signature technique.

But why study these transparencies? Why are they so engaging? Anniken Thue, Frida Hansen’s biographer, also arranged an exhibition in 1991 of transparencies woven by the followers of Frida Hansen. She described the attraction to transparencies in the catalog.  (my translation)

In the forward I presumed to call an exhibition of transparent curtains “this fall’s most beautiful fairy tale,” and I did that because the transparencies, by virtue of their motifs and technique, represent a chapter of beauty in Norwegian textile history. Transparent curtains have been unrecognized as art because they are and were practical textiles. They are always practical because they divide two rooms from each other. At the same time they are magical. In the dark of winter exuberant flowers and rich bird life live on in these works. They also have the quality of changing character with different light, they live in an interior in a unique way. 

Frida Hansen’s transparencies were woven with wool warp and weft, with areas of the warp left unwoven. The unwoven sections create positive or negative space, depending on the color contrast and the light. A set of curtains in Anniken Thue’s home, woven by a student of Frida Hansen, Ulrikke Greve, illustrate this well. When you view the curtains in full light, the colors and patterns dominate. Aren’t the two-ply stripy warps in this curtain interesting?

If the curtain is backlit, the shining spaces of the open warps create a completely different effect. The technique is well-suited to use as portieres, or curtains. When closed and viewed as a flat panel, the designs can be fully appreciated.  The open warps and softness of the wool warp and weft add drape, and they are easily moved apart.

Frida Hansen’s motifs were plants, flowers, and birds, echos of the beautiful gardens at her home at Hillevåg, outside Stavanger. It was her childhood home and she later lived there with her husband before an economic depression left them bankrupt. Certainly peonies were in the garden, and they may have inspired this set of portieres, now in the Stavanger Art Museum.

I noticed a banded effect in “Peonies” (1921); there are repeats in the pattern, like wallpaper designs, but the subtle color variations in each part of the tapestry give it life.  Shiny silk stamens spark the centers of many flowers. The leaf shapes are very stylized, without veins.

The warp has especially beautiful color variations.  The warp in the other three museum transparencies are solid-colored.

You can understand my love of these textiles, right? Thank you, Frida Hansen.