Valley Grove Tapestries: The Skiing Pastor Tapestry is Complete

The Reverend Nils A Quammen was the longest serving pastor for Valley Grove Church, from 1867-1908. Born near Bergen, Norway, in 1839, he immigrated to Wisconsin with his family when he was eight years old. He attended public school in Madison, Wisconsin, followed by Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and finally graduated with honors from Concordia College in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1866. He could preach in German, Norwegian, and English, and knew Greek and Hebrew.

Photo of Pastor Quammen from the archives of St. Olaf College. Pastor Quammen was one of its founders.

My tapestry image is from lore related by Valley Grove Preservation Society member Marlene Halvorsen. Her father told her that the pastor who lived in Farmington (where Quammen lived) sometimes skied from his home to Valley Grove for church services and stayed at parishioners’ homes, including Marlene’s great-grandparent’s home. He would arrive very cold and sometimes crusted with snow but, as the story has it, not at all daunted by his journey.

Another Pastor Quammen tough-traveling story was related by Jeffrey M. Sauve in a new booklet, “Valley Grove Preservation Society: History and Highlights” (Commissioned by the Valley Grove Preservation Society, October 2021).

In a 1927 newspaper clipping…”Rev. N.A. Quammen, who lived in the Christiania congregation, drove with horses to Valley Grove and Nerstrand, a distance of about twenty-five miles. He suffered many hardships on these long drives during the severe winters of those early pioneer years. The story is told of how on one of those trips to the Vally Grove Church during a spring break-up, he had to borrow a pig trough, which he used as a boat in crossing a swollen stream.

When I was designing the tapestry, I wasn’t quite sure how to draw an abstracted clergyman on skis, so I took the general shape of the figure from a tapestry by Norwegian artist Frida Hansen, Birkebeiner Soldiers Smuggling Haakon Haakonson Over the Mountain. It was Hansen’s first tapestry, and she resolved after weaving it to never imitate paintings again, but to create designs and figures that were more suited to the medium of weaving. I based Pastor Quammen’s figure loosely on the first figure, but gave the pastor ski poles rather than a dangerous spear.

Frida Hansen. Birkebeiner Soldiers Smuggling Haakon Haakonson Over the Mountain. 1891. Photo: Finn Levy.

The arch above the pastor is taken from the long-gone wooden arch at the front of the Valley Grove stone church. It serves as a graphic element, perhaps dividing our earthly world from the heavenly realm of the protective angels. My friend Kala Exworthy had a more realistic interpretation. “I keep thinking it looks like mountains,” she said. That would not be southern Minnesota! In Quammen’s case, it would have to be the memory of Norwegian mountains from his early childhood.

I love the hats in this photo–the men’s hats hanging on a pillar, and the fanciness of the women’s hats.

The tapestries will hang in the same space that held decades of services, on the walls to the right and left of the parishioners in the photo. Once the wooden church was built in 1894, and the stone church was remodeled to serve as a gathering hall, a kitchen area replaced the pulpit and altar. My friend Mary Skoy commented, “Think of all those years…it’s different ways of feeding people.”

If you come to see the tapestries and feel a ghostly presence, it may be all of the church members who passed through the space, or at least that man in the back row, gazing intently at us through time.