Underway: Tree of Life, Red River Valley Version

Many readers know about my American Scandinavian Foundation fellowship this year, when I traveled to Norway to study the wool transparency technique of the noted Norwegian artist Frida Hansen. For background on Hansen and links to articles and blog posts I wrote, see this section of my website: Frida Hansen Study Grant.

The copper pipe loom is even suitable for weaving on a ferry

I wrote quite a bit about Hansen and many of her works, but I didn’t relate much about my experimentation with her technique.  I brought a small copper pipe loom to Stavanger, plus I borrowed a larger table tapestry loom from a local weaver.  My intention was to identify just the right Scandinavian yarn that would closely resemble the materials in the old pieces. What I learned, broadly, is that Frida Hansen’s pieces used yarn in a variety of thicknesses, most often plied, but sometime singles yarn. I spent many late nights weaving samples in the lovely apartment at Frida Hansens Hus while streaming Norwegian TV shows. I didn’t share that work online because it looked so small and silly in comparison to the large, impressive Frida Hansen pieces I was studying.

Still, I learned a great deal from my samples, and I came home inspired to weave a larger piece, to show the technique to advantage. But what should I weave? Frida Hansen focused on flowers. As a young woman of means, before she even learned to weave, Frida Hansen designed extensive, exotic flower gardens for her villa in Stavanger. When her husband went bankrupt, she lost the home and gardens. Later, flowers were very important in her transparency designs, and she said they were inspired by the beautiful gardens of her youth.

I may weave my grandmother Eleanor’s hollyhocks someday, or the peonies in Grandma Nan’s yard. But as a farmer’s daughter, I’m starting with my father’s potatoes. My design is also a nod to the common Scandinavian image of Yggdrasil, from Norse mythology. For a farmer’s daughter from the Red River Valley, this is a tree of life. Here is a sketch of most of the weaving.  The open, or unwoven warp threads, are the background of the top of the plant, and also form the snaking roots underground. (The colors are not true to my yarn colors.) I enlarged my sketch to a full-sized cartoon and it is working well to pin portions of the cartoon to the weaving.

I added a stylized border at the bottom, with three prairie rose blossoms. There was one wild prairie rose plant in a ditch near the road in front of our house. Growing up in a sea of green farm fields in the flat countryside, that plant seemed so exotic and out of place.

See the flower? That’s where the prairie rose plant was. Also, I think I am the small child crossing the yard.

I’m weaving the potato plant transparency on a Glimakra table loom; the final dimensions will be 22″ x 36″. I just finished the underground portion.

It’s a fun puzzle to weave, and I already have pages of notes and suggestions written, to help in a future class. One short class that is scheduled is during Convergence, the weaving conference of the  Handweavers Guild of America, in Knoxville, Tennessee, next summer. I feel honored to be chosen as an instructor, or in their parlance, a “leader.” It will be a three-hour seminar on July 27, 2020, from 9-12. This is the description:

Frida Hansen’s Transparency Technique

The session begins with an image-rich lecture on the life and work of famed Norwegian tapestry artist, Frida Hansen. What materials did she use and what contemporary yarns can we use to achieve the play of light and dark in her beautiful transparent tapestries? How do you create a design to work well with open warps? This session is part art history, with immersion into the life of a talented artist and consummate weaver. It is also a hands-on session, with tips on the best materials to use and how to adapt a design to suit the technique.

And now I had better get going on the potato plant leaves….


One comment

  1. What a great post. I love the design, copper loom on a train and that you got the slot at Convergence. Congratulations! Most interesting is your musing about the potato vine design development using Frida’s technique.

    Your postcard is to reach you by Thursday or Friday.


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