Site icon Robbie LaFleur

Magic Time in Decorah – And a Great First Frida Hansen Transparency Class

Impact Coffee Trivia Night in Decorah, Iowa, was especially festive in honor of Gay Pride Week. A substantial crowd sat on lawn chairs, draped in glow stick necklaces. Andrew Ellinsen, director of Vesterheim Folk Art School, was the MC along with his husband Eric. I greeted Andrew with my not-city-priced $8 Manhattan in hand, and he said, “You can be on my parents’ team; they’re really nice.” His dad Mike brought treats, Knox blocks. Red jello? I was skeptical until I pulled out one of the wiggly blocks and discovered shimmering stripes. And they tasted great! The next day Andrew’s mother Sue brought homemade kringle and brune pinner (brown sticks – amazing cookies) for our class coffee break.

Norwegian television crews showed up. They had been in Decorah to film the Winneshiek County Lunch Rally with Vivek Ramaswamy at Conservative Club 45 (which features “Make Decorah Great Again” caps and free copies of the constitution in their storefront window). The rumor in the crowd was that the crew was covering divisive American politics. The reporter interviewed the MCs and a Lutheran pastor. I hope the Norwegians captured the joy and community of the Gay Pride Trivia Night gathering they stumbled on. Shortly after that Andrew told the crowd to look up because the International Space Station was passing overhead, and we would be able to see it travel across the dark sky between the buildings on either side of the street. Magic Decorah. (My short video:

This was the evening of the first day of my first Frida Hansen Wool Open Warp Transparent Tapestry class. I fretted for weeks beforehand. How could I possible relate everything I wanted each student to know in order to decide which design they wanted to use, and actually get going? Eight students were going to use eight different types of tapestry looms, in some cases borrowed looms. How would they all get warped? By the end of the day one, after a torrent of talk…I was alive. The students all seemed enthusiastic. I set off for a walk. Only a couple of blocks away I stopped to pet a nice dog, and her owner asked me if I lived in Decorah. “No, I’m teaching a class at Vesterheim.”

“Have you eaten supper?” she asked, and I said well, no, not yet. “Just wait, I’ll set another place,” and she turned to go in the front door. What should I do? Bolt? I felt awkward, but that would be rude. She came back out and added a setting to the table on the porch. So I ate dinner with Marjorie Wharton and her daughter Julia. I relaxed into easy conversation after a stressful but successful day and enjoyed beets and beans and corn from Julia’s organic farmer friend. At the end of the meal, we looked across the street and saw two spotted fawns, just walking around, seemingly motherless. More magic Decorah.

The Vesterheim community and the whole Decorah community was so welcoming. On Saturday the Vesterheim CEO, Chris Johnson, gave our class a great tour of the new addition designed by amazing architectural firm Snøhetta. (The Decorah project was certainly not as big as the Beijing City Library) You can read more about the Vesterheim Commons addition here, but these were some of my favorite features.

There was one other class going on in our building, a kuksa class. Instructors Fred Livesay and Alex Yerks helped twelve students hollow out traditional drinking cups. It was so fun to have the woodworking students come to see our projects on the looms, and equally fun for us to see the wood chip and chopping chaos downstairs.

Once the weavers in my class became engrossed in their tapestries, the room would fall quite silent for some stretches. That was never the case in the woodworking room, which was smaller and filled with the sounds of hatchets on wood.

You were hoping to see photos of the eight varied and wonderful transparent tapestries in progress in my workshop? Soon!

Addendum: There was a sad final note to the magic Decorah days. The Decorah Pride celebration ended Saturday night, and the next day hate-filled graffiti was discovered on churches and the courthouse. But many supportive people in the community came together on Sunday.

On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 17, churchgoers at Decorah Congregational United Church of Christ and Decorah Lutheran Church discovered their church buildings and signage defaced by graffiti with anti-LGBTQIA+ messaging. By the early afternoon, approximately 60 people had gathered to bear witness to what had happened and to counteract it with a message of love, inclusion, and hard work to restore the damages.

Decorah community responds to anti-LGBTQ vandalism, by Laura Barlement and Christy Ebert Vrtis. September 17, 2023.
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