The Norwegian Textile Letter, the Unfortunate Demise of a Chicken, and a Frida Hansen Tapestry Tale

The last days before I hit “publish” on an issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter feel like a blur of details. Which articles have the final sign-off by the author or another reader, and which have had final proofreading?

On Wednesday Kay (Katherine) Larson and I were corresponding about the captions in her article, Norwegian Double-Cloth: Warp-Weighted Loom Experiments in a Complicated Technique. Like the classic “Who’s on First” skit, she was telling me one thing, and I was understanding another. Totally my fault. Finally she was writing out all ten captions again for me when her daughter rushed from her office to tell Kay some bad news — an eagle was eating one of their chickens!

Caught in the act, the eagle grabbed the remainder of his lunch and effortlessly flew away. Kay added, “Boy, bald eagles are BIG! Oh well, they have to eat too, I just hope it was one of our geriatric hens rather than our younger layers :(“

That was definitely the most surprising response I’ve ever had from my indispensable friends and colleagues who help me with the Norwegian Textile Letter. Without them, I couldn’t manage it; they deserve recognition.

THANK YOU to Mary Skoy, who picks up on typos and grammatical errors that escape me even if I have checked carefully. Kay Larson translates like a dream and shares my continual enthusiasm about stories. Lisa Anne Bauch always responds with, “Sure, I can help. Right now? Sure, I can look at that.” Lisa Torvik is so generous with her time and (unlike me) is a master of Nynorsk translation. I’m thankful to Edi and Roland Thorstenssen when I need Swedish translation. Annemor Sundbø and Ingebjørg Monsen are always ready to help translate tricky Norwegian words and phrases.

All the members of our Scandinavian Weavers Study Group of the Weaver Guild of Minnesota have been supportive of the Norwegian Textile Letter and are ready to help. I can always find a focus group when I want to practice a zoom lecture, even if they have to sit through my disjointed drafts, when I say multiple times, “No. Wait. I’ll have to change this slide order.”

Most recently, five Scandinavian Weavers friends sat through my practice run for a Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum webinar, The Mystery of the Missing Swans and Maidens: A Frida Hansen Tapestry Tale. Thank goodness! It was in much better shape for the April 2, 2023, webinar.

The lecture is now up on YouTube. It’s a good story, with some remaining mysteries about the tapestry. There are still unaccounted for years when Southward was missing from public view. And it is still for sale — who will buy it?

(Webinar description) Back in 1903, Norwegian-born socialite and tapestry teacher Berthea Aske Bergh was determined to show Americans the brilliance of Norwegian billedvev, or tapestry. She traveled back to Norway and purchased Sørover (Southward), a tapestry of swans and maidens with shimmering threads from the famous Art Nouveau artist Frida Hansen.

Southward was an important, often-displayed monumental tapestry, so when the curators for the blockbuster show, Scandinavian Design in the United States, 1890-1980, sought key textiles, Frida Hansen’s tapestry was top of mind. But where was this 11 x 10 foot weaving now? Only a few grainy black-and-white photos and many glowing descriptions remained.

In January 2021, nearly 90 years after Southward was last displayed publicly, noted rug dealer Peter Pap opened a Tupperware container in a storage building in Maine. He unfolded a woven treasure in dusty, but pristine condition, and with a quick google search, he learned it was a long-lost Frida Hansen tapestry. The veil of mystery, as well as the dust of decades, has been removed from Southward. The Frida Hansen masterpiece was restored to the world in time to add to the Scandinavian Design exhibit during its recent run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, showing March 24-July 23, 2023.

Join Robbie LaFleur for this timely webinar to celebrate the life and work of Frida Hansen and, especially, to hear about the Southward tapestry mystery as it unfolded.

Frida Hansen. Southward, 1903. Photo: Peter Pap

Leave a Reply