Norway House celebrates roots, embraces diversity

“WOVEN: from life itself”

The exhibit brings together a collection of pieces from “outsider artists” who may not have been taken seriously in other art environments.

LAILA SIMON
Minneapolis

Many groups came together to make the new exhibit at Norway House happen. “WOVEN: from life itself” is a collaboration initiated by the Art for All: The Stephanie Evelo Program for Art Inclusion at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota. Program Manager and Curator Nik Fernholz explained, “My goal is to bridge the gap between the art community supporting artists with disabilities to the broader art community.”

Art for All is designed to create spaces of inclusivity where artists can display, promote, and sell their work. It began with an endowment from Sheryl and David Evelo to honor their daughter Stephanie Evelo (1969-2012), a talented artist and employee of the Institute on Community Integration. What this exhibit aims to highlight is the concept of “outsider artists.” This refers to artists who may not be taken seriously in other art environments or have the access to show their work in galleries.

This month, visitors to the Galleri at Norway House are welcomed with an explosion of color in the Art for All exhibit “WOVEN: from life itself.”

Sourcing galleries around the Twin Cities, Art for All seeks out new neighborhoods for greater access for the artists and the viewers. Nik had a personal connection to Norway House and Mindekirken where he attended Sunday services years ago.

“I’ve always been drawn to my hidden or long-lost identities and with a grandmother who only spoke Norwegian until the age of 5. She taught me a great deal about appreciating our roots.” He saw Norway House as a place that celebrates roots and embraces diversity and thought it would be a great location for a 2022 summer show.

Norway House’s Minnesota Peace Initiative also partnered in this exhibit. Founded in 2008, their mission is “to foster engagement related to peace issues and peacemaking efforts worldwide.” The message of peace, acceptance, and coexistence reflect what Art for All is working to accomplish in communities all around the Twin Cities. The focus of “WOVEN” is celebrating disability pride and cultural and ethnic diversity.

The exhibit features artists from the Ventura Village neighborhood surrounding Norway House, as well as artists from Norway. Nik said, “It was very challenging to curate artists with disabilities from Norway.” Since artists there are typically part of associations or collections, the concept of an organization promoting artists with disabilities doesn’t apply.

The work of Norwegian artist Frode Felip Schjelderup is heavily influenced by heavy-metal music.

Nik was excited when he heard from Erik Sæter Jørgensen, who represents SJ Contemporary, a studio that Frode Felip Schjelderup practices out of. Frode is influenced by heavy-metal music, a popular phenomenon in modern Scandinavia. Erik and Frode agreed to participate in the show and ship never-before-seen pieces overseas.

Frode’s perspective is free from the confines of the traditional fine art world. The exhibit also includes a copy of his book, Rock Portraits, that goes into more depth of his collected works. Using rudimentary techniques reflects the grunge of the music world he is depicting. Another Norwegian artist in “WOVEN” is Bjørn Hatterud, a musician and author. His book, Mot Normalt (Against Normality), mirrors the major themes of the entire collection. As a gay man, living with clubfoot and spina bifida, Bjørn is an “outside” artist. The book covers his childhood village, with observations on the culture he grew up in. It asks the question, who is “normal?” He is in the process of translating his book into English.

A highlight of the exhibit is the painting, “Little Waterfall,” by William Britt (on loan from the permanent collection at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain in Minneapolis). William grew up in New York and lived for 34 years at the scandal-ridden, infamous Willowbrook School. It was there a doctor gave him paints and paper and he taught himself to paint. Today, he is an internationally known artist with works in the collections of King Charles, Nancy Reagan, and many others. He is represented by Pure Vision Gallery, a gallery for artists with disabilities.

“Little Waterfall” by William Britt is on loan from the permanent collection at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain in Minneapolis.

The only fiber-art weavings in the exhibit were made by local Minnesotan artist, Ingrid Hansen, who has three loop-stitch pieces in the show. Ingrid works with fiber and also creates polymer-clay jewelry. Other represented artists include Janette Tafoya Giles, a master student at the University of Minnesota in Multicultural College Teaching, photographer David “Mack” McDonnell-Forney, and Norwegian documentarian Heidi Benedict Sundby.

Themes of peace and awareness, groups and artists from different backgrounds and different countries, and organizations all within the Twin Cities are woven together by this exhibit. This message inspired the title of this collection.

“We are thrilled to have our permanent gallery at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, but our mission also calls us to get out into communities to promote disability as a strength to be celebrated in the art world,” said Nik. “We connect with one another as we weave these identities. So that is woven from life itself – the unique identities that make up who we are as individuals, and the unique set of artists we’ve been able to curate.”

Almost all of the exhibited art is available for purchase. Art for All is non-commissioned based and all of the profits go directly to the artists. Email the artists individually for inquiries; you can find their contact in the exhibit or by reaching out to Nik Fernholz at fern0104@umn.edu. “WOVEN: from life itself” is a free exhibit, and will be up in the Norway House Gallery through Oct. 30. And don’t miss the grand opening of Norway House’s expansion of the Innovation and Culture Center on Oct. 15.

This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis. She is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, Laila translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.