The Ever-Inspiring Helena Hernmarck

Helena Hernmarck is an inspiration and mentor to me in many ways. In 2012 I took a wonderful workshop from her at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. When asked something about how she managed to build her successful career and practice, she said, “Always say yes.” It’s a good attitude, to fearlessly accept challenges, keep learning and changing, and to move outside what is comfortable.

Watching Helena Hernmarck demonstrate during her workshop was so valuable, to see her make minute decisions with every pass about how the bundled yarn should be placed.

I helped arrange for a recent online lecture with Mae Colburn, Helena Hernmarck’s assistant and archivist. Mae’s lecture was wonderful; she imparted so much information about Helena’s technique, career, and remarkable system of documentation. For each piece she weaves, Helena creates a graph showing time spent, with the line of the chart moving over by the date and up by the number of inches woven. She makes notes about things that happen in her life as the weaving progressed. The tapestry documentation becomes a life journal as well. I was mesmerized.

Mae also discussed the challenge of creating massive tapestries for the elevator lobby of a NYC condo building. I was lucky enough to see one of them a year ago (shortly before shutdown of the world). I don’t remember whether Mae commented on one of the most remarkable aspects of seeing the tapestry in person. The reflections of the tapestry off the shiny surfaces of the elevator doors and polished wood surrounding them envelop you completely; the square footage of the tapestry is huge, but the effect becomes even more immense.

And especially if you are a weaver, stepping up to the tapestry to examine details is magical.

If you would like to listen to a recording of the lecture, view it here.

My desire to weave in her marvelous technique is rekindled! So far, I have only woven a small sample piece and my childhood home “Wheat Harvester” tapestry. That’s my brother in the giant machine. (Blog post: “Wheat Harvester Tapestry off the Loom.”) Oh, and then there was the half-completed tapestry I finally decided was never going to work out as I hoped–another whole weaving life lesson. See: “Woven with Love, and Many Mistakes.”

For my new tapestry on the loom, I’ve come up with a documentation plan inspired by Mae’s talk and Helena’s thoughtful attention to time. To be described in my next post…


  1. I remember her magnificent exhibit at ASI, in addition to the beautiful commissioned piece she made for them. I also happened upon four large tapestries hanging in the “fountain rotunda” at the MIA. Right away I was sure that they were Hernmarck tapestries; yep. I can understand how she is inspirational to many.