I am preparing for an upcoming Zoom lecture for Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum on September 22, 2020, “From Kindness to Cutting Satire: Lila Nelson’s Tapestries Embraced the World and Its Politics.” A Conversation with Robbie LaFleur.” This is a wonderful excuse to review Lila’s work–looking at images of her tapestries is like visiting old friends, and of course, like being with my friend Lila, who died at 93 in 2015.
In so many cases, I want to ask her more about the tapestries. Here’s an example. This one hung in Lila’s room in the skilled care wing of Lyngblomsten Nursing home during the last months of her life.
I recently re-read my old emails from Lila, and in 2011 she wrote, “I’ve been drawing what I thought was an abstract design for a tapestry. But now I stood back and took another look and there was the mother of those Decorah eaglets…….. huge eagle eyes and a great eagle beak!” Could this tapestry be the one featuring eaglet eyes?
Lila was a prolific tapestry weaver, and on at least a few occasions she wove more than one version of an image she liked. As I continued my lecture prep, and looked through my own photos of Lila and her works, I found this one from February 2010. I took a photo of it on the floor; I assume it had recently been completed. It’s the same image in a completely different palette, but with words: water, and wind, and stone.
I wrote to a few of Lila’s friends, but so far, no one remembers hearing about the imagery. (If any readers who knew Lila know more, let me know!) Claire Selkurt wrote, “It looks familiar, but I don’t know anything about the background of the work. I do however recognize the polar bears. I gave the cub to Lila to go with her big bear. After she died I selected them as a remembrance and they now grace the bureau in my bedroom. Lila, as you know, loved polar bears.”
Oh, I DO know she loved polar bears. You’ll see a few of them in my talk, including a terrorist polar bear. Here are a couple, among other arctic animals.
Here is the description for the upcoming talk:
September 22, 2020 (7:30-8:30PM CDT)
Many people in the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum community remember Lila Nelson as the long-time Textile Curator. Many weavers remember Lila as a skilled instructor and incredible mentor. This slide-filled lecture will focus on Lila Nelson as an artist. Her tapestries reflect her irrepressible personality, her engagement with the world around her, and, not least, her political commentary.
Lila’s true talent was her ability to depict many facets of life with complete sincerity. She wove a girl on a swing in pigtails, expressing joy in a single moment in life. In another tapestry, two Inuit women are embracing in friendship—you sense their love and communication. Yet she also wove a tortured prisoner hanging on a prison wall, with frightening faceless prison guards on either side. And she wove cats with machine guns! She used humor to point out the emphasis on terror that was making people feel fearful.
This time of pandemic and political unrest is a perfect time to review Lila Nelson’s enduring art and wonder, “What would Lila be weaving now?”
You can register here.