Weavers Guild Artists in the Baldishol Exhibit

The original Baldishol Tapestry was woven around 1180.

Our Scandinavian Weavers Study Group of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota brainstormed about a possible exhibit two years ago. How about using the famous Norwegian Baldishol Tapestry as inspiration for new works?  The result is marvelous, and you can see all the pieces in The Baldishol: A Medieval Tapestry Inspires Contemporary Textiles on the Norway House website, norwayhouse.org. You can also visit in person, with carefully-planned social distancing guidelines in place.

We formed a congenial and efficient committee: Sara Okern, Lisa Torvik, Lisa Anne Bauch, Claire Most, me, and the Director of Programming and Exhibitions at Norway House, Max Stevenson. Using the suggestions from the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group, we put out the Call for Art. We evaluated applications via email, and in the end 26 pieces in a variety of textile techniques were chosen. It was fun to include submissions from far afield, including New Mexico, California, Massachusetts, Canada, and England. It was equally fun to include several entries from members of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. There were eight in all, including me; this post is a shout out to my WG friends–Kala Exworthy, Katherine Buenger, Claire Most, Sara Okern, Sharon Marquardt, Jan Mostrom, and Becka Rahn.

Katherine Buenger’s rya echos the dots in the background behind the horse and rider of the May Baldishol panel. Often rya hangings are large-scale; Katherine’s is small. It draws in the viewer, who is then rewarded by the richness of the colors, particularly the blue. (Read also this profile.)

“Pleiades” (Seven Sisters)” by Katherine Buenger

Katherine was the first to be finished with her piece (which will not surprise many Weavers Guild members who are reading this), but some Weavers Guild friends squeaked in under the wire! Lisa Torvik’s very large transparency showed up on the second day of installation, but as she said, “I know it’s going in the window, so you don’t have to arrange the walls around it.” It is a tour de force of symbolism. She represents herself and her husband in reimagined panels of February and March. In the February panel, Lisa stands with a shuttle in one hand. The first four visitors to the exhibit were mystified by the object draped on her left hand, until a phone call led to the answer–a computer keyboard and mouse! Symbols of Norway surround her. In the March panel her husband is surrounded by an artist’s palette, a guitar, and a chalkboard representing his work as a teacher. Visitors can challenge themselves: find the glass of Guinness. This photo shows one section. (It’s difficult to photograph in the window). Notice that the ribbon-like motif at the bottom mimics the one on the Baldishol Tapestry, as well as the wave-like border at the top.

“Our Calendar” by Lisa Torvik

Kala Exworthy won the last-minute honors. She was embroidering madly the weekend before installation, after sewing the cowl made of hand-woven wool. Plus, it was the first project on her new loom. But as they say of strong women, she persevered. Read more in this profile (including her treadling injury….).

“Snowflake Cape for the Imagined Woman of January” by Kala Exworthy

Claire Most is a wonderful tapestry weaver, and she was inspired by the Baldishol horse, which is notable for its spots. I like to think that in Claire’s interpretation the spots have leapt off her personality-filled horse’s back and are lined up graphically along the edge.

Weavers Guild members are familiar with Jan Mostrom’s beautiful Scandinavian weavings and her super dyeing skills. Like Claire, Jan was inspired by the Baldishol dots for her wool rug/hanging, “Indigo Sky.” The colors in the original tapestry are referenced in dots that march horizontally on bands of hand-dyed blue wool.

When Sharon Marquardt said she planned to use the Voss rya technique to do a January panel depicting a snow shoveling scene, I was completely baffled. What? I couldn’t visualize it one bit. Seeing the end result was surprising! Actually, seeing each of the finished pieces in the show after only reading words about them was like opening gifts. Sharon’s use of technique, including a border of unspun wool knotted in the Icelandic varafeldur technique, is so clever that it will be detailed in an article in the next Norwegian Textile Letter issue.

Becka Rahn has a national reputation for her fabric designs, so we were lucky she wanted to delve into all the imagery in the Baldishol Tapestry for a modern design take. Her digitally-printed velvet fabric was used to make a pillow, wall piece, and bench covering. She even shared her design process in a blog post and video. Here’s her Baldishol bird interpretation on a corner of the bench, along with a bird from the Baldishol Tapestry replica in the show (on loan from Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum).

I think every show includes a piece that was meant to be, that needed to be in the show. For me, for this show, that is Sara Okern’s conceptual piece, “An Arch, A Moment,” that anchors the center of the room. It mimics the arches in the Baldishol tapestry. Sara wrote that her arch “is an invitation to frame your present moment and reflect on the current state of society. Every moment is worth reflection, but even more so in the times of chaos and change we find ourselves in this year of 2020.” I also like the idea of moving through–moving through time since the twelfth century, and now moving through unforeseen and unsettling times.

So my “Baldishol Duck Stamp” tapestry is in fine company. I chose the April panel of the Baldishol Tapestry for a Minnesota take, with a migrating wood duck. I used the ribbon pattern and columns from the original tapestry. After I put together the cartoon, the framed duck reminded me of duck stamps, hence the name. (See a video about weaving the duck here.)

There’s so much more to read and see about this exhibition. Read the descriptions and bios of the artists for all the pieces on the Norway House site, here. See a YouTube video of the virtual opening, here. Read background articles about the Baldishol Tapestry and profiles of many of the artists on the Norwegian Textile Letter site, here. The exhibit will be up through the end of September, so there will be many opportunities to see the show in person. Schedule a visit on the Norway House site, here.