Above the Divan

Because of my writing and weaving, people ask me questions. Sometimes I have an opinion or information, but many times I am helpful only because of the smart people I know. And then I learn such interesting things too! Recently Ann Knickelbein wrote to ask about a family textile. “I just inherited this tapestry from my mother-in-law, whose grandfather immigrated to Chicago from Norway sometime before 1910. I’m trying to learn something about it’s origins.  Given the level of detail, I am assuming it is machine made.  Do you have any thoughts or know the history of this type of tapestry?”

Not a single comment came to mind. Ann sent instructive photos showing a close-up and the back. Clearly it is not a “real” tapestry, but it is a type of machine-woven image of a scene that was important in the life of its owners.

I wrote to Laurann Gilbertson, Curator at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. She agreed that is was a machine-woven, mass-produced piece. “We have several, some of cityscapes (Oslo, Bergen, Venice) and some more pastoral images. They were popular in the US, too. Most of ours are quite faded, so they were hung and used (not just kept away). I don’t know where they were woven – if these, regardless of scene, were all woven in one city/county or if they were made in several large cities with localized scenes.” She appended one of the textiles that Vesterheim owns.

I think it is easy to imagine how much the new immigrants from Norway appreciated these scenes from their home country. Also, a textile would have been easy to pack, in contrast to a painting of the same size. Ann Knickelbein’s relative moved to Chicago from Norway. It’s not known whether he brought it from Norway or purchased it later, but the countryside scene was likely a polar opposite to the bustling streets of an early 20th century big city.

I also consulted my friend Kari-Anne Pedersen, A clothing and textile curator with the Norsk Folkmuseum in Oslo. Kari-Anne blended both professional knowledge and personal insight in her very interesting response.

My most immediate association is to machine made woven pictures that were popular to hang above the divan. In many homes both in rural areas and in less well-to-do homes in urban regions there were no specific bedrooms. There were beds in many rooms. You would make the bed during the day and cover the ‘divan’ (daybed) with a bedcover (divanteppe). A woven textile such as this often decorated the wall above the divan. This probably came into use from the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. My mother, born in 1916, of lower middle class origins, bought one on sale in the 70s. She probably remembered it from her own childhood.  She put it on the wall above the bed in the guest room. Many years later I understood what sort of context the were used in: hung above a bed as a decoration.

Kari-Anne Pedersen

She included a photo of a room at the Norsk Folkemuseum, a kitchen from Trøndelag, furnished as it would have been in the 1950s. She described further, “This is the bed in the home of the cleaning lady Gunda Eriksen reconstructed the way she lived as an elderly person in 1957. The apartment is reconstructed with her authentic items in the Wessels gate 15 apartment building reerected at the museum in 2000.” It looks like a print above the divan, but you could imagine a machine-woven scene, too.

Kari-Anne was a bit skeptical that the scene owned by Ann is Norwegian; it looks more European to her. It doesn’t look like a Norwegian farmyard. I also thought the clothing didn’t look Norwegian.

Because of my interest in weaving, Kari-Anne also suggested I might enjoy searching the Norwegian digital museum (digitaltmuseum.no) with the term divanteppe, to see the wide variety of coverings for divans. Rabbit hole. It was interesting to see the diversity, ranging from traditional Norwegian weave structures like rutevev, skillbragd, or tavlebragd to mid-century crocheted granny square afghans. I continued my digital museum search, looking through many photographs of interiors, hoping for instances of textiles above divans. For the most part, though, photographs of interiors tend to be of wealthier homes, with paintings above the divan, or real tapestries, or other “finer” textiles. But here’s one scene of a young woman sewing, with a panoramic scene behind her that I feel sure is a machine-woven textile.

Details of the photo of Elisabeth Aggvin here: https://digitaltmuseum.no/021017009817/kvinne-broderi-sying-duk-stovedivan-divanteppe-veggteppe-panoramafoto-pa/media?slide=0

I am so appreciative to Laurann and Kari-Anne for lending some context to Ann Knickelbein’s Norwegian scene. If anyone has more information, I’d love to know. I have a feeling I will learn more in the future about these types of scenes.

Addendum: I ran across a charming photo of children on a divan, but the photo rights didn’t include free sharing, so I didn’t want to post the image. But in this photo, look at the way a photo is mounted in the middle of a weaving on the wall behind the children. It’s in interesting idea….



  1. Hi Robbie, This post reminds me of a wonderful museum collection we happened upon in Edinburgh’s Lauriston House. The collection was of Crossley Wool Mosaics, collected because the owner of Lauriston House appreciated their humble nature and the fact that they were created using industrial means. The mosaics were formed from bundles of wool, arranged to capture famous paintings, compressed and then sliced into hangings. http://needleprint.blogspot.com/2009/12/crossley-mosaics.html

    When we toured the museum the guide emphasized that humble “art” (such as the Crossleys or divanteppe?) is often pretty disposable and seldom collected. This also brought to mind velvet paintings (and the film The In-Laws).

    Some more examples of Crossley Mosaics: [cid:959e2ea2-5e17-4c4c-9447-330c274158e6][cid:5583d50a-f3be-427f-8a06-f50b88c60b66] [cid:1c3e73c8-0cda-4bac-8949-89c750ee8581]

    Hope all is well in your world! Marilyn


  2. Hi Robbie, the photo of the children sitting on the Divan tapped into my recent on line lessons in traditional Selbu knitting. The little boy is wearing a pair of traditional socks, similar to the pattern I have chosen to knit in my class! Thank you!

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