Archive for the ‘MUSEUMS’ Category

Root Looms – Part 2

March 25, 2021

In my last post, I wrote about the gorgeous old root looms made by Finnish craftsmen. If you’d like to learn more about root looms and rug weaving, I highly recommend a visit to The Iron County Historical Society Museum in Hurley, Wisconsin.

The Iron County Historical Museum in Hurley, in the former county courthouse building.

In 1980 two families donated old looms to the museum, which focuses on the history of Iron County and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Three of the all-volunteer staff—Director Nellie Kopaz, Ursula Schram, and Lillian Kostac—decided to showcase the importance of rug-making in the region not only by displaying the looms, but by demonstrating weaving. The group began making rugs in 1981.

Don’t you love this photo from the early 1980s? A team of volunteers (including Nellie Kopaz, in the black sweater) is warping a beautiful old loom. (Courtesy Iron County Historical Museum)

The loom collection grew. Several fabulous old examples show how different craftsmen used what was available to make unique looms.

This loom is over a century old. The curving supports were made from a single bent tree that was cut in half. The pieces were pegged together, and the gears also carved from wood.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

The painted loom below was built in 1912 by Alrick Johnson and August Abrahamson Luusa. A descendant of the recipient recalled helping his grandmother when she worked on rugs—and also noted that the loom provided a great hiding place for young children!

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Another talented woodworker; another style.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Forty years after museum volunteers began making rag rugs, the program continues strong. Guests are welcome to meet some of the workers and learn more about the weaving process.

The weaving room.

Tons of clean fabric are donated to the museum each year. Workers sort the cloth by type and color, cut it into strips, and sew them together to provide the weft.

The cutting & sewing table.
This pretty rug was one of many underway during my visit.

Rug sales support the museum.

Lots of sizes and colors to choose from!

In The Weaver’s Revenge, the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Chloe attends a cutting bee where local weavers have gathered to prepare their strips. The woman hosting the bee explains,

“You know what I love most about weaving? This. Just a bunch of neighbor-women sitting around the old woodstove in somebody’s kitchen drinking coffee and preparing their rags. It’s sociable.”

That camaraderie seems to define the good energy in the Iron County Historical Society’s weaving room as well. And that’s an important part of the story.

Busy day in the weaving room, some time in the 1990s.

Special thanks to Julie Morello for her help with this post. Her parents, Doris and Hank, were longtime museum volunteers. Doris is of Finnish descent and wanted to learn how to weave. In the photo above, she’s on the left, preparing cloth. She also helped preserve the tradition of braiding wool rugs, as shown below. Hank’s many tasks included loom repair and assembling donated looms that arrived in pieces. Thanks to the Morellos—and all of the museum volunteers who make things happen!

 

Root Looms – Part 1

March 18, 2021

Chloe was transfixed by the unique weaving apparatus dominating the space. “I love your loom!” she breathed.  Unlike other antique looms she’d seen, all crafted with straight and soulless support beams, this one gloried in knotholes and grain and flowing curves.  (From the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.)

For centuries, woodworkers in Finland created what they needed with what they could acquire from local forests. Clever craftsmen considered even crooked trees, or those with deformities in roots or branches. These curves and angles were ideal for many elements of plows, boats…and weaving looms.

Kaarina Passila, weaver (Finnish Heritage Agency)

When Finnish immigrants began settling in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the tradition of making “root looms” continued.

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center. This loom was made in the Jacobsville, MI area over a century ago.

Here’s how a loom maker describes his work in The Weaver’s Revenge:

I do appreciate a good tree. A bad carpenter works against the tree. Just cuts the dang thing down and wants everything to look like it came off an assembly line. What I do is look for roots and trunks and branches that bend a certain way. Something others might see as a deformity, I see as the structure of a loom. 

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center.

Root looms are big and heavy and featured beaters hanging from an overhead frame. The size and weight make it possible for weavers to create firm, durable rugs. In the photo above, the loom’s reed (middle of the photo), which keeps warp threads evenly spaced, is made of actual reed material. (Later looms featured metal reeds.) Weavers grasped the horizontal wooden bar on top of the reed to bang every strip of cloth tight.

In The Weaver’s Revenge, a weaver helps Chloe understand why Finnish rugs are special:

Chloe touched the iron rod affixed to the beater bar. “What’s this for?”

Betty slid onto the bench. “Chloe, I want to show you why Finnish weavers are known for the quality of their rugs. After every shuttle pass I beat four times, twice with my hands at the edges of the bar, twice with them in the center.” She demonstrated, banging hard enough to make the loom shudder. “The iron rod adds extra weight.” 

“I’ve never seen that technique.”

Betty looked pleased. “Some gift shops sell rugs you could poke a finger through. Our rugs are tight. That’s why these big heavy root looms are so important. You can’t beat hard enough with one of those flimsy modern looms.”

Historians note that, in general, Finnish rag rugs are beaten so tightly that the warp threads virtually disappear, as in the example below.

(Finnish Heritage Society)

Root looms were an important element of the Finnish rug weaving tradition. It was fun to spotlight these looms—and their makers—in The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming in May!

Update—Travel With Me To Norway

October 30, 2020

When I partnered with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society and Group Travel Directors last year to plan a trip to Norway , COVID-19 wasn’t on the radar. We forged ahead with a spring trip announcement, hopeful that we’d all feel safe traveling by May, 2021. The planning committee agreed that having something wonderful to anticipate could only brighten such difficult times.

Well, we get to enjoy that anticipation for a while longer than originally planned. I’m sure it will surprise no one to hear that the Chloe Ellefson tour to Norway has officially been postponed.

I’m as excited about this trip as ever, and we are committed to making it happen! Although we’re not announcing specific dates at this time, we hope to travel in spring, 2022. When we do arrive in Norway, we shall have special toasts all around!

If you’d like to be on our mailing list for trip-specific updates, let me know. We’re grateful for your interest and support. Please stay safe and well!

_____________________________________________________

I write about special historic places in each of my Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, and nothing makes me happier than sharing them with readers.

Well, guess what?

I’ve teamed up with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society to offer a trip to Southern Norway—the land of Chloe’s ancestors! Click the link below to see what we have in store.

When I decided on a Norwegian setting for Fiddling With Fate, the 10th volume in my Chloe Ellefson Mystery series, I chose the area that enchanted me most. Now, you can experience the Hardanger Region as well!

Important note:  Although we’re making plans for a stupendous trip, no one can predict the future in these challenging times.  We understand.  We also know that anticipating an adventure can relieve stress!  If the pandemic makes it necessary, the trip will be postponed for a year (with a possible adjustment in price), not canceled.

For more information contact:

Group Travel Directors
952-885-2133
800-747-2255 ext. 133
jtollund@gtd.org
www.gtd.org

We also have a Tour Norway With Kathleen website created just for the adventure! It’s your portal for trip information, blog posts, and much more.

I am incredibly excited about this trip. I hope you can join us!

Symbols

June 4, 2020

Norwegian people have used symbols to express important thoughts since ancient times. Even simple carved, painted, or stitched motifs on building or folk art often had important meanings.

Fiddling With Fate:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery

Agnete Sivertsen, director of the Hardanger Folkemuseum in Utne, introduced me to the ritual use of symbols in old Norway while helping me identify an artifact handaplagg (hand cloth) to use as a prototype for one described in Fiddling With Fate, The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery.

Hand cloths were traditionally worn during weddings in the Hardanger region. The geometric motifs stitched into this cloth are more than pretty designs. They have meaning.

After showing me the cloth, Agnete took me to the Hardanger fiddle gallery. The intricate designs embellishing many old fiddles are similar to the designs embroidered in the handaplagg.

Director Agnete Sivertsen, Hardanger Folk Museum.

My fictional handaplagg is introduced in 1838, when Gudrun stitches symbols into a handcloth for her granddaughter Lisbet to wear for her wedding.

Gudrun spread the cloth she’d been stitching over her lap. It was old, but she’d cared for it well. The linen was still crisp; the original black embroidery silk still dark and even. Her own grandmother had stitched her blessings and fears into this cloth. Most of the symbolism Gudrun understood, but she’d been young when her grandmother died.

The maker is unknown, but the handcloth is believed to date back to the 1700s.

Are there messages in the patterns that I’ve missed? Gudrun wondered, touching the old threads with a gnarled finger. Have I misinterpreted something I’m meant to pass on? Will coming generations understand what I’ve contributed?

When Chloe fictionally inherits a similar hand cloth, she takes it with her to Norway. She gradually discovers some of the meaning incorporated into her cloth—and many other types of folk art as well.

Squares like the one below represent agricultural fields; smaller stitches within represent seeds. Such motifs reflected hopes of a fertile marriage.

Detail of the handcloth pictured above. Hardanger Folkemuseum, Utne, Norway.
Inked design on fiddle. Hardanger Folkemuseum, Utne, Norway.

Circles and spirals were often used to symbolize male power.

Fiddle, Hardanger Folkemuseum, Utne.

Ram’s horns (the reciprocal spirals at the bottom of the mangle board shown below) were invoked to encourage male fertility.

Mangleboard, Utne Hotel, Utne.

Sun symbols summoned all that was good and warm and holy. 

Stave container, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum
Tankard, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

Some symbols protected the family and farm. For example, crooked designs like those below may have been intended to confuse and drive away evil spirits.

Kroting (chalk painting) done during a class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

The stitched figures below may represent the disir, spirits who guarded women and linked their families from one generation to the next throughout time.

Embroidered cloth. Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo, Norway. (My apologies for the poor image quality.)

At the end of the book, Chloe asks an expert to share her thoughts about the symbols on her handaplagg.

Sonja smiled. “I think the women in your family wanted to protect their daughters and granddaughters from evil, and to bless their lives with love and balance and holy light.” 

Love and balance and holy light, Chloe thought. Who could ask for more? 

Do any symbols appear within your own family heirlooms or ethnic heritage? Have you included any in your own handwork? Feel free to share!

* * *

Would you like to learn more about symbolism found in Norwegian folk art—up close and personal? Join me on a special tour, Folk Art, Fjords, & Fiddles: Travel To Norway With Author Kathleen Ernst.

Travel With Me To Norway!

May 17, 2020

I write about special historic places in each of my Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, and nothing makes me happier than sharing them with readers.

Well, guess what?

I’ve teamed up with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society to offer a trip to Southern Norway—the land of Chloe’s ancestors! Click the link below to see what we have in store.

When I decided on a Norwegian setting for Fiddling With Fate, the 10th volume in my Chloe Ellefson Mystery series, I chose the area that enchanted me most. Now, you can experience the Hardanger Region as well!

Important note:  Although we’re making plans for a stupendous trip, no one can predict the future in these challenging times.  We understand.  We also know that anticipating an adventure can relieve stress!  If the pandemic makes it necessary, the trip will be postponed for a year (with a possible adjustment in price), not canceled.

For more information contact:

Group Travel Directors
952-885-2133
800-747-2255 ext. 133
jtollund@gtd.org
www.gtd.org

We also have a Tour Norway With Kathleen website created just for the adventure! It’s your portal for trip information, blog posts, and much more.

I am incredibly excited about this trip. I hope you can join us!

Hardanger Lullaby

April 29, 2020

On my first trip to Norway, I experienced something special while visiting the Hardanger Folkemuseum’s open-air area.

Our guide, Maria Folkedal, took us into Tveismestova. I found the old farm so compelling that I used a fictionalized version in Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery.

Maria made it easy to imagine living in the building centuries ago.

Tveismestova, Hardanger Folkemuseum. Experts believe the structure is at least 700-800 years old.

Then she sang a lullaby that area mothers have used to soothe their babies for just as long.

It was a magical moment. Now, you can experience it too! Just follow this link to my YouTube channel.

Fiddling With Fate is about mothers and daughters, and Maria’s gift of song offered a new aspect of that theme. How could I not incorporate this experience into the book? Here’s Chloe’s take:

“I’d like to share with you a different aspect to life in the old days on the fjord,” the guide said. “Music has always been incredibly important to Hardanger people. This is a lullaby that local women have sung to their babies for hundreds of years.”

She began to sing. The lullaby, offered in a clear soprano voice, was hauntingly beautiful … and familiar. Chloe closed her eyes, taking it in. Had Amalie Sveinsdatter sung this to baby Marit? Perhaps the lullaby was somehow imprinted in Mom, Chloe thought, and got passed down to me.

Maria singing the lullaby in Tveismestova, August, 2015. (Sorry for the poor quality – it was dark!)

I’m grateful to Maria for sharing her talents, and so happy to share her song with you as well. Enjoy!

Kroting

March 12, 2020

For centuries, Norwegian farmhouses had open fireplaces. A raised hearth was built in the center of the floor, with a smoke hole in the roof above. These “smoke houses” with a central hearth and/or corner fireplace were common along the western coast.

Tveismestova, the oldest building in the Hardanger Folk Museum Collection.

Kroting was a simple way of decorating a house with smoke-stained logs and few or no windows. In Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Chloe senses why it was important:

Chloe imagined living through a dark, cold winter in this dark, sooty room. Firelight flickered against the walls. Wind whistled through cracks, and sleety snow beat against the lone window. The air smelled of smoke and unwashed bodies. Somehow she understood that the designs brought comfort.

Kroting at Tveismestova.

Women mixed chalk with water or sour milk, and used their fingers to paint the geometric designs on the walls. Kroting was often done in conjunction with the major housecleaning undertaken for holidays or a wedding.

Kroting at Tveismestova.

Some of the geometric designs may have been decorative, but some employed symbols invoked to ward away evil and protect the inhabitants.

Another building at the Hardanger Folk Museum, Tronestova, dates to between 1650 and 1750. The kroting here uses white and a red derived from local minerals.

Kroting at Tronestova, Hardanger Folk Museum.

Several buildings now restored at Oslo’s Norsk Folk Museum also came from the southwestern part of Norway. The example below was copied in the 1940s from a pattern in a Hardanger farm.

The chalk decorations were not permanent. Very few original examples of kroting exist today, but fortunately some of the designs were saved. The reproductions found in these historic buildings provide a glimpse of life in dark Norwegian cabins hundreds of years ago.

Exploring Your Heritage: A Writing Sampler

December 10, 2019

I’m delighted to announce that I will be teaching a writing workshop at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa, on April 24-26, 2020.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Cherished family stories can be preserved in many ways. This workshop will introduce you to several types of writing, including poetry, memoir, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

You will enjoy a variety of short writing activities designed to help capture memories or explore what interests you most about your unique family, ethnic group, or community heritage.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Inspired by Vesterheim’s rich collections and your own personal memories or heirlooms, you will leave with drafts of several poems, character sketches, essays, and short stories.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Both beginning writers and those with some experience are welcome. Returning students will find some familiar activities, some new, and a chance to continue your work.

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

I hope you will consider gifting yourself a weekend of creativity and reflection. If you have any questions, let me know. I look forward to seeing you!

The Oldest House

October 10, 2019

The Hardanger Folkemuseum‘s traditional exhibits are amazing, but there is more to see at this museum in Utne, Norway! Up the hill from the museum proper is an open-air division. Two of the buildings there were original to the grounds, but most have been moved from other locations in the Hardanger area, and restored. It’s a gorgeous setting.

Eldhuset, a Cook House.

The buildings have been arranged to suggest a cluster farm, which was common in the 1800s. Several families often shared a courtyard or common area while farming their own holdings beyond.

Hardanger Folk Museum

When I was planning Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I chose to feature the Hardanger Folkemuseum in part because of the open-air division. My favorite building is Tveismestova (Tveisme House), which inspired the fictional Høygård used in the novel.

Warning: Mild plot spoilers ahead!

Tveismestova is the oldest building in the museum’s collection. Scholars believe the home was constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries.

Taken from inside the entryway, this shows the front door on left and the doorway to the main room on the right.
This single space was used for everything. Note the raised hearth in the center and the kroting on the back wall. The wooden shutters in the back wall covered the hatch.

As tour guide Klara explained in the book, In the old days, people believed that a dead person’s soul would try to return to the house where it had lived, using the entrance where it last emerged.  So bodies were removed through the hatch, which was kept closed at all other times.  That way the soul wouldn’t return through the door.

A closer look at the raised fireplace, with iron kettle hanging above.
Tveismestova, Hardanger Folk Museum.
Looking up at the smoke hole. It could be covered with a greased animal bladder.

The house has only one window, which replaced the original hatch. In one of the final chapters in Fiddling With Fate, Chloe approaches the house from this side, and peeks in the only window.

Tveismestova had a turf roof, constructed on top of a layer of birchbark…

…but some the buildings in the open-air division had slate roofs. This is the type of slate tile Chloe picks up in the book.

The real Tveisme Farm was struck by more than one tragedy. An avalanche struck the farm in 1781, killing the farmwife. The house, barn, and sheep barns survived, but the farm was moved to a safer location nearby–all except the old original house. When the farm burned down five years later, only the cabin remained.

Once moved to the Hardanger Folkemuseum in 1931, it had many stories to tell.

The Hardanger Folkemuseum

September 19, 2019

If you’re traveling in southwest Norway, and appreciate folk traditions, the Hardanger Folkemuseum is a must-see.

After my first visit, I knew I had to get my protagonist Chloe Ellefson there.

Most of Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe mystery, takes pace in Hardanger, and the museum is prominently featured.

The region is famous for its folk costumes and textiles. The museum’s collection is stunning.

Textile gallery, Hardanger Folk Museum.
Textile gallery, Hardanger Folkemuseum.
The Hardanger bunad, or folk costume. Bunads are folk costumes based on traditional folk costumes from rural areas. The Hardanger bunad has been widely adopted in modern Norway. Construction techniques used include elaborate beadwork, embroidery, and cutwork.
The museum recently displayed 1,000 bodice inserts. You can see how they were worn with a vest in the photo above, and see some of the oldest in the photo below.
Agnete Sivertsen, museum director, is an expert in regional textiles. When Mr. Ernst and I visited while on a group tour in 2015, she gave us a fantastic tour.

Music is another aspect of local culture. Hardanger fiddles, which have also come to represent the nation, are the region’s most famous instrument.

Another instrument, the Psalmodikon, has one string and is played with a bow. They were often used in the 1800s to accompany hymns, or to teach songs in school.

Psalmodikons, Hardanger Folk Museum

Other folk traditions are preserved and displayed at the museum as well, such as these pieces carved by Lars Trondson Kinsarvik.

The Hardanger Folkemuseum is a gem. After exploring the traditional exhibits, be sure to tour the open air division. (More on that next time.)

And if you’re like me, you may want to linger on the grounds, soaking in the landscape and thinking about people long gone…but not forgotten.