© Tove Pedersen

In the late 1960s, the training offered at the textiles department of the National College of Art and Design in Oslo laid particular emphasis on tradition. Each autumn we would spend 14 days in the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History simply drawing. Our studies in the “tapestry loft” were a source of great inspiration to us youngsters.

Our teacher, Kjellaug Hølaas was herself a competent tapestry weaver and always had a loom set up in her office. Her tapestries grew during her free hours. Nevertheless, she was unwilling to teach us tapestry weaving. Her argument was that it would consume far too much time during such a brief training as ours (four and a half years). So long as we could draw, dye our yarn and develop a sense for our materials, we could always turn to tapestry weaving later.

And that we certainly did! Our eminent colour teacher, Åse Frogner, was also a source of inspiration. Her colourful abstract tapestries presented us with modernism, where Kjellaug Hølaas stood for tradition. Having finished our studies we immersed ourselves in the mysteries of tapestry weaving. We distanced ourselves from the products of Norsk Billedvev A/S (Norwegian Tapestries Ltd.), where weavers wove designs made by painters.

We defined ourselves as visual artists, not as craftspeople. Our works had no use other than visual contemplation. Neither did we want our works to be evaluated by the jury responsible for selecting paintings at the national Annual Autumn Exhibition. We wanted a jury of our own.

We created our own organisation, and became the first textile group of the UKS (Young Artists Society). We enjoyed the support of our colleagues in other disciplines. We arranged our own exhibitions at Oslo Kunstforening and at Høvikodden. Having boycotted Norway’s Annual Autumn Exhibition for several years, we eventually got what we wanted: a special jury for textiles.

During the 1970s an awareness for the politics of professional art steadily increased. The publication of Aina Helgesens “Kunstnerkår-rapport” (Report on artists’ working conditions) led to the founding of “Kunstneraksjon-74” (Artists’ Initiative 74). Visual artists set up the NBFO (the Association of Norwegian Visual Artists). The struggle for decent working conditions for artists developed concomitant with the women`s rights struggle and the anti-EU campaign. Many of the art works in that period were influenced by international solidarity. The USA’s war in Vietnam set our minds ablaze.

The “Gras-gruppa” (a group of graphic artists) set the tone with their political pictures. The struggle for women’s rights was important for us textile artists since most of us were women. Hannah Ryggen was a great example to us. Similarly, Anniken Thue’s big exhibition of Frida Hansen’s works at the Museum of Applied Art in Oslo poured fuel on our fire. It was a fire that warmed us. Together we launched the “Fellesverkstedet for tekstilkunsnere” (communal workshop for textile artists) at Trafo in Oslo and the Nordic Textiles Triennial. It proved difficult to gain acceptance at Lausanne. But why grovel to them when we could create our own reality? Tapestry weaving was much sought after. Several large retrospectives were organised. Tapestries were also being bought to decorate public spaces. We had a lot to say and we were putting it across to the public.

Later in the 1980s much of the purely political message disappeared not just from textile art, but from the visual arts in general. We were sailing into calmer waters at the turn of a new millennium.

What remained were ornament, figurative design, and more lyrical depictions of nature. Colour is important in tapestry; we paint with yarn. The technique imposes no limits on artistic expression. In Denmark, Queen Margrethe commissioned large new tapestries for the Knights Hall at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. These amounted to 17 Gobelin tapestries describing Denmark’s history. The tapestries are designed by the artist Bjørn Nørgaard and were woven at the Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins et de Beauvais in Paris. The work took ten years and was finished for the Queen’s 70th birthday.

In 2000 and 2002 the Academy of Art and Design in Beijing, China, arranged the exhibition “From Lausanne to Beijing”. The Chinese have considerable faith in the idea that there is a real future for all things that cannot be digitalised. If that is the case, then the future for tapestry art should be bright.