Frida Hansen’s Southward: Musing on the Border and People who Live Near the Ocean

The border of Frida Hansen’s 1903 tapestry, Southward (Sørover), has surprising details I saw only after much study and listening to the observations of others.

When I first examined the border, before the tapestry was cleaned, the watery designs seemed a bit mysterious. Beautiful, yet obscure. Flotsam and jetsam on the sea? Horseshoe crabs? Coral, my friend suggested. When the tapestry was cleaned by Robert Mann in Denver, he suggested that a portion of the design at the top center of the tapestry, above the circle with the name of the tapestry in it, was a stylized latin phrase.

Neither Peter Pap nor I could see that as Latin. And since that pattern element is repeated ten times around the perimeter of the tapestry, it seemed unlikely. That leads us to the instance, while at the Winter Show, when we were looking at that image along the side. Peter Pap exclaimed, “Seaweed!” He pointed out that the vine-y seaweed exited out of that pattern element, and continued in the next. See my crude arrow below.

Bobby McInnis, the son of the dealer who owned the tapestry, jumped in, saying that the green parts are likely kelp that is floating on the surface, with some of the ruffle-y edges of green seaweed and kelp turned back.

Once you notice the seaweed aspect, you realize the sophistication of her representation, a 3-D effect of water underneath and kelp/seaweed above, a series of ocean layers.

Those who have walked ocean beaches will recognize the little balls on the seaweed. Bobby said, “I used to pop them when I was a kid.”

Blue mussels placed around the design add graphic impact. These are in the bottom left-hand corner, right above the initials of Hansen’s weaving workshop, Den Norske Billedvæveri (The Norwegian Tapestry Workshop), and the date of the tapestry.

Perhaps I can blame my land-locked upbringing on a Minnesota farm for the fact I didn’t see the seaweed at first? It took people who grew up in Connecticut and Hawaii to spot it. And of course, Frida Hansen would have been so familiar with the watery coastal environment.

(More articles about Frida Hansen are in the Norwegian Textile Letter.) Southward is on view and for sale by Peter Pap at the WinterShow in New York City through April 10, 2022.

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