Contemporary & Traditional Textile Arts in Northern Iceland

by Heidi Bergstrom
Some people are fortunate enough to make it to Reykjavik, but not the environs further away when they go to Iceland and therefore they miss the opportunity to experience an immense and diverse range of culture that I learned, can be had in the country. Encounters with contemporary art of a high calibre are just one of those experiences.  Icelanders, unlike others (in my limited knowledge obviously), are impressive in their knowledge of their history.  I learned a lot about my own Icelandic history and ancestry on this trip that I never would have without the help of Michele Hayeur Smith and her husband Kevin Philbrook Smith and their friends in Iceland who are historians.

I count myself privileged to be on this road trip through Iceland with Michele Hayeur Smith who as an archaeologist, educator, and visual artist, is both knowledgeable and passionate about the history, landscape, and people of this island nation – above and below ground. On this part of our journey, I listen to her energetic talk to seven eager international artists in residence at Heimilisiðnaðarsafnið / Textile Museum in Blönduós.   The artists are chatty, ask lots of good questions and are curious about the perspective of the archaeologist about the origins of traditional weaving techniques going back some 800 years that set the foundation for many designs and methods practiced today.

We are given a personal tour by Elin Sigurdardottir, the manager of this fascinating and comprehensive small museum, and are treated to a demonstration of traditional spinning techniques.

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To top it all off  (unbelieving it can get better), we finish with a serious dose of contemporary art by Anna Þóra Karlsdóttir, whose approach to wool convince me this is the stuff of Iceland’s soul itself.  You can visit Anna’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010471188072&fref=ts.  These large, sensuous works remind me of the hand-carved whorls by Salish artist Charles Elliot I documented on the Northern Women Arts Collaborative blog site not only because of the round form, but because it has to do with textiles, spinning, and weaving. I have no idea how Anna creates these works technically, but I think there may be another blog post on the horizon.

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This museum must not be missed if you are going to Iceland.  If you don’t get there, check out the website.  The residency program offers an incredibly unique experience for anyone interested in this subject and is a growth opportunity for anyone with experience.  These people are so knowledgeable and generous with their time,  you will learn and grow if you visit and stay for the residency.  I am putting it on my bucket list.

The limitation of blog posts is obvious to me now. There is so much more I can and should say about this. I will. Unpacking Blönduós is not a one-blog-post thing!


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