Museum exhibit showcases traditional Norwegian textiles
November 19, 2003
"Woven Treasure: The Coverlets of Norway"
Anchorage Museum of History and Art
Nov. 23, 2003 - Jan. 4, 2004
Opening reception, Sunday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
with gallery talk by exhibit curator, Katherine Larson
"Woven Treasure: The Coverlets of Norway" presents the hand-woven coverlets, pinnacle of the weaver's art in traditional Norwegian textiles. In times past, when women's energies were divided between household and farm chores and the additional necessities of cloth production, very little time remained for artistic pursuits. But the family bedsteads needed covering, and these beds, often found in the main room of older Norwegian homes, provided a perfect showcase for the housewife's expertise in spinning, dyeing and weaving. Only the finest efforts could grace the family bedsteads, and these heirloom textiles were indeed 'woven treasure.'
The coverlets were decorative, but they also served the very real purpose of protecting family members from the winter chill. A surprising array of weave structures provided this warmth, from tightly woven tapestry to the thick pile of rya. The tapestry and rya coverlets also illustrate the range of style and economic status that these textiles represent, from the sophisticated pictorial tapestries found in relatively wealthy home in Norway's eastern valleys to the shaggy, utilitarian ryas essential to humble Norwegian mariners. Between these two extremes, techniques as diverse as brocading, krokbragd, and overshot are represented, each providing warmth with their own unique decorative characteristics.
These beautiful textiles were created by women who were truly masters of their art. Every year Norwegian women devoted their winter months to the productions of cloth for household use, for clothing the family and hired help, and even for making sails in earlier times. In Woven Treasure, the many steps form raw fiber to finished textile are explained for those who have become unfamiliar with skills that were once universal. Flax and wool were the primary fibers, raised and harvested every year on most farms. Hours of work were required to transform mound of raw fiber into spun yarn, and often that yarn was dyed with natural plant materials before the final steps of knitting, weaving and sewing. The exhibition presents the tools used for flax and wool preparation, spinning, dyeing and weaving, and explains their use. Enhanced by many period photographs, these details of the textile process ultimately impart a deeper appreciation for skills so expertly employed in creating the Norwegian coverlets.
Accompanying the exhibition is the full-color book, "The Woven Coverlets of Norway," written by exhibition curator Katherine Larson. The book provides a complete treatment of the many types of coverlets, their role in Norwegian life, and the women who created them. A product of years of research, "The Woven Coverlets of Norway" fills a void in the literature on this important aspect of Norwegian folk art.
"Woven Treasure: The Coverlets of Norway" exhibit was organized by the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, drawing on its own collection of immigrant textiles, and that from the Vesterheim Norwegian- American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, and from the photo archive of the Norwegian Folk Museum in Norway among many others. The exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and is touring the U.S. and Canada since its September 2001 opening at the Nordic Heritage Museum.
Museum admission is $6.50 for adults, $6 for seniors and military personnel and children 17 and under are free. Museum members enjoy free admission and a 10 percent discount on all purchases in the Museum Shop and the Marx Bros. Cafe. For more information, contact Dave Nicholls at 343-6122 or visit www.anchoragemuseum.org.