I was so relieved to hit the WordPress “publish” button yesterday to send out the new issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter. I felt tangled up in cycles of editing and proofreading and fixing and updating. And even so, I’m sure some mistake remains…
There are two wonderful articles about Norwegian historical billedvev, or tapestry, sparked by novels written by the Norwegian author Lars Mytting. He wove the legend of the Hekne sisters, conjoined twins who were master weavers in Gudbrandsdalen, into his Sister Bells trilogy of novels. Book one is The Bell in the Lake, followed by the The Reindeer Hunters. The third book has been published in Norway as Skråpånatta, and will be available in translation soon. (You can listen to a Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum bokprat [book talk] on The Bell in the Lake with Lars Mytting and Dr. Maren Johnson on YouTube.)
Marianne Vedeler, Professor in Archaeology at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, has been studying the legend. See: “Tales of Magical Weavers Keep a Medieval Tapestry Tradition Alive.” Although no one has found tangible evidence that the conjoined Hekne sisters actually existed, researching this legend reveals a great deal about how tapestries fit into a rich storytelling tradition. And weavers have power!
“In stories from the Middle Ages, weavers are not simply visual story tellers. They often have magical capabilities that can change the course of history. They can see into the future, but also cause ill fortune and sickness, rob people of their wits and strength, open mountains and grave mounds, and even commit murder.”
Marianne Vedeler examined the Hekne sisters, visual storytelling through tapestry, and legends about the powers of weavers in a longer, academic article, “Gudbrandsdalen Tapestries and the Story of the Hekne Sisters.” The article, from Viking: Norsk Arkeologisk Aarbok [Viking: Norwegian Archaeological Yearbook], Vol. 86, No. 1, 2022, is translated and reprinted with permission.
Katherine (Kay) Larson translated this important article (which stretches to 20 pages in the accompanying pdf version, 26 with the literature list). It was a long job to translate, and tricky to get just right, but also enjoyable. Kay wrote,
Marianne Vedeler’s thoughtful article on the tapestries of Gudbrandsdalen has been a pleasure to translate. Like many who have studied these textiles, I have focused on their practical and artistic elements, but Vedeler casts a far wider net. Certainly they were used as coverlets, but other possibilities are explored, and each new angle from which Vedeler views the tradition adds depth to our understanding of the time in which they were created, and to their place in a tradition of visual imagery and oral storytelling that stretches back to the Viking Age. One can easily imagine the flickering light of a fire bringing the figures in a tapestry to life, while storytellers regaled their audience with well-known tales.
My friend Mary Skoy read the translation, and I loved her reaction. You will understand it after you read the article, which describes how the weavers of many historical tapestries are unknown. Mary is always admonishing her friends to put their names, or at least their initials, in their weavings. She wrote, “Since we as weavers in the 21st century don’t sign or date our work, future generations of textile scholars and archaeologists will have the same discussions as are going on in this very scholarly article.” I will continue to vehemently suggest that we sign/date our work.🙂”
It’s worth celebrating the fact that we are no longer isolated at our looms and tethered only to classes via zoom. A full seven articles in the new issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter describe post-pandemic travel and study in person – to Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. I thought of this focus and asked many friends for articles partly because of own experience taking a course at Sätergläntan this summer. It wasn’t ideal to leave my husband for a couple of weeks during a beautiful Minnesota summer month, but I felt a real need to travel to Norway to visit friends, and to take a class. Edi Thorstensson wrote in her article about the once-again-scheduled Vesterheim Textile Tour, “How precarious it felt, for some of us, to venture overseas after the pandemic, to take a chance that all would be safe and good.” I didn’t feel it was precarious to go this year, but precarious to wait. What global health or political crisis might prevent travel in years to come? Nothing seems certain.
Be sure to read the new issue; I haven’t touched on all the varied articles. Now it’s time to return to my next projects, finished the warp for a new wool open warp transparency, and packing for my Frida Hansen transparency workshop in San Diego (beginning Nov. 4).