People with purchased or inherited tapestries of likely Norwegian origin keep finding me and asking if I know anything about their unidentified objects. Sometimes I know nothing, sometimes I have a guess or can provide some background, and occasionally I know the answer, or the likely answer, right off the bat. Those are fun emails to open. Steve Isaacson wrote to ask about a “reportedly Norwegian” tapestry his wife and he owned for twenty years.
My first guess was that it was designed by the noted Norwegian painter and designer Kåre Mikkelsen Jonsborg. I love his work, both his distinctive mid-century style and his beautiful color palette. He is best known for his cartoons for monumental tapestries, especially those in Oslo City Hall. It was easy to verify my guess due to the detailed website created by Jonsborg’s grandson, Atle Jonsborg Pedersen.
I believe it is a small piece that was produced as a sample for the larger weaving Sommerdans (Summer Dance) from 1961. If the tapestry was woven in 1961, the sample was probably done shortly before that. See this page: http://www.jonsborg.net/sommerdansen/
I then learned interesting facts from Atle Jonsborg Pedersen. He told me that Jonsborg sold many of his small designs, portions of his larger tapestries, to Husflid, the Norwegian Handcraft Association. They were sold as patterns for home weavers. His wife also sold tapestry designs to Husflid. Atle guessed that Steve Isaacson’s piece wasn’t necessarily a sample for the larger tapestry, but probably woven by a weaver with a pattern from Husflid, because it looks irregular in the photo, and likely woven by an amateur. I think it looks uneven only because it was photographed on a cushion and not a flat surface. And if you look closely, there are the initials KJ for Kåre Jonsborg and NB for Norsk Billedvev, the studio that wove Jonsborg’s tapestries.
There are several small Jonsborg-designed tapestries in the Norsk Folkemuseum that are easily found on the wonderful digitaltmuseum.no website. Atle Pedersen was told that they are samples for the large City Hall tapestry, woven by Else Halling or other weavers at Norsk Billedvev.
Can you find the small parts in the large tapestry? I thought it would be a fun project to visit the large tapestry in Oslo City Hall and take photos of the same sections — if they weren’t too high. On Monday I went to City Hall, but was halted by a nice, but firm, guard. When I pulled out my phone and showed him the image of the tapestry I wanted to see, he was surprised. “It looks very different now,” he noted, because it is so faded. The photo below has reconstructed colors.
But, I couldn’t see the tapestry. They were preparing for a reception with 100 people that night, and we couldn’t visit the second floor because of preparations. “But I’ve come from a long way,” I begged, “from Minnesota.” But rules are rules.
It was a disappointing start to an amazing day in Oslo. It was still fun to see the faded cushions in the main hall that are being reconstructed by five tapestry weavers. That project, now halfway complete, was described in this article in the Norwegian Textile Letter, “Reconstructing Tapestry Cushions for Oslo City Hall.” When I saw photos of the existing pillows earlier, I didn’t think they looked that worn or shabby. In person, I could definitely see the need for replacement. I hope to take a photo of me on the new cushions in a couple of years.