Norwegian threads weave their way to Norway House
Leslee Lane Hoyum
Norwegian Threads, an awe-inspiring exhibit combining the festdrakt artistry of Norwegian textile designer Lise Skjåk Bræk with Anne Langsholt Apaydinli’s textile- and tradition-inspired paintings, opens June 19 at Norway House in Minneapolis.
During their 2014 Norway tour, former Norway House Board President Linda Mona and her husband, Dave, anxious to learn more about Norwegian heritage, visited Sverresborg, an open-air museum in Trøndelag. By sheer happenstance, the museum was hosting an exhibit called Huldas døtre, (Hulda’s Daughters). The Monas were immediately enchanted by what they saw.
“We were surrounded by beautiful dresses and paintings,” said Linda Mona. “They were obviously Norwegian-inspired, but not from any one place in Norway, as are bunads. They were festdrakts, party dresses suitable for any special event, such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings, or Syttende Mai.
“Dave and I were taken by the beautiful silks, damasks, and cottons used in Lise’s creations,” said Mona. “Each piece, whether it was the skirt, vest, sweater, apron, or blouse, was elegantly rich with ribbons, lace, ruffles, hand embroidery, stylish borders, and vibrant colors. The dresses and paintings were a lot like Norway House, pulling from Norway’s past, but updated for today, while planning for the future. This exhibit needed to come to Minneapolis.” It took very little encouragement to convince Skjåk Bræk and Apaydinli to say yes.
Lise Skjåk Bræk is a familiar name in the Midwest. Many retail stores have carried her creations, from sweaters to Christmas ornaments to bed linens to rug designs. Many also identify her with the design of the uniforms worn by Norway’s 1994 team in Lillehammer. Also, in Norway, she is well known for her striking corporate uniform designs.
It was Hulda Garborg, Norwegian novelist, playwright, poet, theatre instructor, and ultra patriot, who around 1900 began creating festive garments based on her research of traditional Norwegian wear for folk dancing. She is often considered the “mother of bunads.” At first the rules for bunads were lax, but eventually they became very strict with each county or locale having its own design. According to Skjåk Bræk, that restricted the development and creativity of the costumes.
“As an educated dress designer with my own atelier and annual fashion shows,” said Skjåk Bræk, “I was far away from folkloristic costumes and bunads. But in spite of this and my urban life, my roots are in Gudbrandsdalen. I was very aware of our cultural heritage, whether it was our textiles, prints, or woodcarvings, for example. So when I started making my dresses I went back to the same treasure chest as Hulda Garborg, but created more contemporary interpretations.
“I learned early about the language spoken by a dress. It can intimidate, impress, allure, show rank, and more. During Syttende Mai one year I dressed a window with three festdrakts and they just took off. Why, you might say? Because not all Norwegians have strong feelings for their rural roots and do not know which bunad to choose. The festdrakts spoke to them. I saw a market for a contemporary alternative to the bunad.”
Acccompanying Skjåk Bræk is Anne Langsholt Apaydinli, who was born in Sarpsborg, moved with her family to the United States in 1953, and returned to Norway to live at Onsøy about 14 years ago. She, too, is inspired by traditional Norwegian motifs and portrays them with a flamboyant outpouring of color and near fantasy.
In the ’70s and ’80s, Langsholt Apaydinli concentrated her creativity on blankets and building façades. After several trips back to her homeland, she realized how strong her Norwegian roots are. “On one of my trips to Norway, I visited the Norwegian Folk Museum at Bygdøy. It was a fierce inspiration. It was like sticking my head into a genetic coffin,” she said.
With her renewed Norwegian identity, Langsholt Apaydinli found her art transformed. It began to reflect traditional Norwegian patterns, from beautiful bunads, silver brooches, old wall hangings, brocades, rosemaling, and colors from old homes. The inspiration was so great she moved back to Norway and eventually developed a friendship and partnership with Skjåk Bræk.
“Lise and I have had 10 exhibitions together,” said Langsholt Apaydinli. “We usually have no contact before a show. We only discuss the floor plan, hanging devices and such. When we actually start setting up we are always pleasantly surprised at the similarities of our work. It’s as if we have been working side by side in preparation.”
Individuals interested in purchasing a festdrakt can contact Skjåk Bræk at email@example.com. She has never met half her customers; orders can be handled by e-mail and mail. She will also be available in Minneapolis the first 10 days of the exhibit in June.
The exhibit runs June 19 through October 31. The Galleri is open Tuesday through Sunday, but please check norwayhouse.org for autumn hours. Tickets are $6 or $5 for seniors 65 and over. Students and Norway House members receive complimentary admission.
Norway House is located at 913 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, Minn., adjacent to Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. For information, call (612) 871-2211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.