“Red is the Finest Color I Have”

I posted an article to the Norwegian Textile Letter today, in the middle of the publishing cycle, an extra article for the February issue. It’s a wonderful article, “Red is the Finest Color I Have: On Color in Coverlet Weaving in Setesdal around 1900.”

Perhaps you don’t think of pink as a traditional Norwegian coverlet color? When brilliant pink became available to weavers in Setesdal, Norway, as a chemical dye in the late 1800s, they leapt on the chance to brighten their homes with bright, sharp color. Karin Bøe, a weaver and author who lives in Valle in the north of Setesdal, wrote a deeply researched book about Setesdal coverlets, Rugger og Brossar. Åkle i Setesdal (2012). Many of the colors in the coverlets, primarily from the chemical dyes, were terribly faded. But it was a challenge that Karin Bøe met head on. She wrote,

It’s exciting to work with these weavings and figure out how they would have appeared when they were new. Many surprises and color combinations turned up, ones I wouldn’t have thought of myself, or dared to try. That’s why it is important to conduct this research and display the results. The talented weavers of Setesdal deserve no less.

It’s my own fault that it was not ready to publish with the rest of the issue. Or perhaps part of the blame falls on the coronavirus? Karin wrote her lovely article, and I translated it. However, I like to have my translation checked by my smart friend Lisa Torvik, and I sent it on. Of course Lisa did her part; it’s so great to have a second reader/translator to catch clumsy phrases. For example, I translated a quote from a weaver as, “It troubles your head when you put colors together. It’s so awful.” Lisa deftly made it better as, “It gives you a headache when you put colors together. It’s so awful.” We’re a good translating team.

All this happened at the time of unfolding coronavirus concerns, and I missed Lisa’s response at the end of an email about a different issue, about the upcoming Norway House exhibit in June. Hence, the special article just came out now.

I first met Karin Bøe up at her home and Studio, Valle Vev, on a trip to Norway in 2006, driving up through Setesdal and over to mountains to Telemark with Annemor Sundbø. Karin’s studio could not look more traditional–a grass roof!

It was amazing to see her studio and all of her beautiful weaving. And then, when it was time for a snack, she opened her FLATBREAD DRAWER. It was impressive.

I am so happy that Karin was excited to write this article for the Norwegian Textile Letter. I think that her research deserves to be widely recognized and shared. She quotes many weavers in the article, giving them recognition, too. My favorite quote was from the weaver who, many years later, still regretted a mistake in her weaving. Anne Myrum said, “See, here I put in one gold (zigzag) stripe at the end. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve been irritated by that gold stripe my whole life!”

I met Karin a few years before she published her beautiful book, Rugger og Brossar. Åkle i Setesdal (2012) (Rugger and Brossar Coverlets in Setesdal). It is in Norwegian, with a synopsis in English at the end. It is worth purchasing for the photos alone. If you would like to purchase the book, contact Ken Koop in the Gift Shop at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum. The museum is currently out of stock, but more are on order.

It’s a dark time for the world, a good time to appreciate the bright colors of old Setesdal coverlets and Karin Bøe’s work to help them live on.