Hannah Ryggen and her Geese

January in Minnesota is a really great time to delve into an engrossing tapestry project.

Pointing to my great-grandmother

I traveled to Arizona for a short time, to visit my mother and give a presentation on Norwegian tapestry for the Sons of Norway lodge in Mesa. It was popular! Nearly 30 more people than usual signed up for the meeting, and the audience included area weavers who read my blog. I was honored. Of the many people who thanked me afterwards, two themes emerged. First, many people had seen old Norwegian tapestries during trips to Norway, and were happy to have context and information about them. I was a little surprised by the second theme–several people commented on how they enjoyed seeing the slides of contemporary tapestries. It was clear that hadn’t thought about tapestry as a current art form. As an ambassador for tapestry, I clearly need to add more slides of current Norwegian tapestry to my next presentation.

The trip gave me unbroken airplane time to start reading Hannah Ryggen: Threads of Defiance by Marit Paasche (London: Thames and Hudson, 2019. Highly recommended!).

Ryggen said that she did not consider her works as textiles, but representations of people’s lives and struggles. And her life was a struggle. I often think of weavers in centuries past, who managed to weave non-utilitarian textiles despite their other responsibilities and lack of modern conveniences.

Hannah Ryggen lived on a very small farm in Trøndelag with her husband. She spun and dyed her own wool, cared for animals. She loved her geese, and could not eat them when they were slaughtered. In the center of this weaving you see her husband decapitating a goose. On the other side of the table, Hannah shields her eyes and lets the food slip from her plate, uneaten. She made butter and cheese with the milk from their cow. She cared for a young daughter. Yet she was able to weave this monumental tapestry, which is more than six feet wide, in one year. 

“Us and our Animals,” 1934.

During January, when I worked hard to complete a tapestry, I thought about the daily tasks of my privileged life compared to Hannah Ryggen.
Hannah Ryggen: Weave. Milk cow. Weave. Make cheese. Make butter. Feed geese, cow, chickens, and sheep.
Robbie: Weave. Go to grocery store. Weave. Feed cat.

I use beautiful Norwegian Rauma spelsau yarn in my tapestry; the biggest task is opening the package that arrives at my doorstep. So, again, a comparison:
Hannah Ryggen. Grow plants for dye. Dye wool. Spin yarn. Weave.
Robbie: Order yarn online from The Blue Heron Knittery in Decorah. Weave. 

For the first twenty years on the farm, Hannah and her husband Hans had no electricity; she couldn’t weave during the deepest winter months. So, on a January day:
Hannah Ryggen: Wait until spring, then weave.
Robbie: Turn on several ceiling lights and special Ott floor lamp. Weave.

Now it is March. My dead-of-winter tapestry is off the loom. The seemingly endless threads hanging on the back have been woven in during many episodes of “The Sopranos,” and I’ll publish a full photo soon. Expect more on Hannah Ryggen too!