Valley Grove Tapestries: Putting Together the Pieces of the White Church Tapestry


A showy lady’s slipper anchors one corner, a beautiful pink orchid that blooms for brief periods each June. I was happy with the woven leaves of my flower when my husband checked on my progress. “What is it?” Mike asked. A lady’s slipper, I replied. “I don’t know what that is,” he said.

I’m weaving with my second-favorite heavy-handled fork.

It’s the Minnesota state flower! Since I have known that for as long as I can remember, I was a bit stunned to find I’m married to someone who hasn’t discovered their beauty.


Perhaps a Norwegian immigrant, sitting in the stone church, saw a flash of blue out the window. I thought my bluebird turned out a bit chubby, but then I noticed that the bird in photo I adapted was also quite round.


The meadowlark is a pretty prairie bird. When I asked the Valley Grove Preservation Committee members about which birds I should weave, Marlene Halvosen commented, “With pastures converted to croplands they [meadowlarks] seem to have gone the way of the jackrabbit, sadly.  90% decline since I was in college.  I haven’t seen one in decades although they were a familiar sight on the fenceposts of our cow pasture in summer.  It would be fun to see one memorialized.”

A meadowlark for Marlene. Slide the bar for a fun photo-to-weaving transformation.


A wonderful essay on the Valley Grove Preservation Society website describes the shrike as “The Butcher Bird.” I picture the bird impaling a recently-caught small shrew on a barbed-wire fence, saving it for an afternoon snack. Miles wrote,

Shrikes are songbirds, but they have the heart of a raptor. Roughly the size of a robin, this predatory bird utilizes a wide variety of prey species. These may include many species of insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers, and small vertebrates from frogs, lizards, and snakes, to birds and small mammals. On occasion, they have been observed attacking prey as large as themselves. No small feat for a predator that has the feet of a perching bird and lacks the killing talons of a raptor. Their primary weapon is a hooked beak, or tomial tooth, formed from the hardened cutting edges (tomia) of the upper beak. Repeated strikes to the head are often used to stun and disable its prey. Then by grasping the neck and vigorously shaking the victim, it creates g-forces strong enough to dislocate the cervical vertebrae. The shrike then flies the carcass to a suitable location and impales it on a sharp thorn or twig for caching or disassembly. Lacking the powerful muscles and talons for holding and controlling the body while butchering, the impaling larder serves as the bird’s personal abattoir.



One of the most wonderful aspects of working on this commission has been all of the trips to the churches–the close examination of the buildings and cemetery and walking in the prairie and woods. One special trip was with my friend Kelly Marshall on April 21, 2021. I remember that we agonized a bit about whether we could travel in the car together without masks (we did). One goal was to visit the Nerstrand Big Woods State Park for a hike and to see the Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom. It is an endangered species, only found in Rice, Goodhue and Steele counties in Minnesota. We saw many that day!

I realized after I finished weaving that I could have done a better job with the leaf. The Dwarf Trout Lily leaves have a pretty, mottled look–like a trout! I forgot about that when abstracting one of my photos.


Bald eagles soared over the valley when Norwegian immigrants first broke fields and built the stone church, but disappeared from the skies following WWII due to the widespread use of DDT to protect crops. Eagles have made a comeback through the efforts of the DNR and protection laws. Now Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to the largest population of nesting bald eagles in the United States outside of Alaska.


Are you ready to hear about the biggest design mistake in the tapestry? Perhaps you already noticed? You may remember the clasped hand image on many of the graves in the Valley Grove cemetery, similar to this one:

I wove a sample last summer.

I resized the hands to my liking for the final cartoon.

But I never noticed that I added them to the cartoon UPSIDE DOWN.

Actually, I never noticed this at all until my friend Melba Granlund sent me a note after I posted a photo on social media. She’s so kind! She didn’t call it out on my post, but rather sent a sweet email asking if my camera may have inadvertently rotated the photo. I made my husband come to the loom and fretted with great sadness as I pointed out the hands. He started to laugh, and said what, as a psychiatrist, he always says about such things. “It was unconscious. It’s because you are left-handed.” I don’t think either comment is true–it’s more that once I chose the motif, I looked at it as a shape, and was concerned with size and color, and no longer saw it as a picture of something. And perhaps because I was weaving it sideways, the mistake never jumped out. But now that it happened, it can’t be undone! We’ll see how many viewers in the coming years notice that it is an impossible handshake or way to clasp your hands!


The framing motif used in this tapestry is taken from a historical Norwegian cushion cover.

Grosch, Henrik. Gammel Norsk Vævkunst: Putetræk og Tæpper i Farvetrykte Gjengivelser (Old Norwegian Art Weaving: Pillow Tops and Coverlets in Colored Reproduction), published in 1913 by Kristiania Kunstindustrimuseum (now part of the Nasjonalmuseet, the National Museum). This is in Volume 1.


Here are the two churches, in a photo taken from the Valley Grove Preservation Society website. This tapestry commemorates the white church, built by the Valley Grove congregation in 1894, after they outgrew the original 1862 stone church.

And here are all the pieces put together, wrapping up this tapestry and the whole set! All four tapestries will be in place tomorrow, June 25, 2022, for an Open House. There is still time to come! Details in my previous post.