Karin Flatoy Svarstad, with the help of Birgitte Krag Hansen, orchestrated the project. A group of 11 women were invited to participate, feltmakers from several countries with varied approaches to feltmaking. The group included; Elin Alver, Petra Gottwald, Karin Hvoslef, Solveig Myren, and Karin Flatoy Svarstad, from Norway, Helle Andreasson and Birgitte Krag Hansen from Denmark, Jenny Cowern from England, Pamula Dunbar from Northern Ireland, Ayala Talpai and Lucy Zercher from the United States (Oregon and Alaska).
We traveled to the Island of Bermanger, and to the town of Kalvag, an active fishing village, a 4 ½ hour ferry ride north of Bergen. The trail was on a hillside that stretched across wonderfully diverse terrain from which we each chose a location to choose for our installations. The lovelier sections included sweet areas of heather and ferns, lush new growth of vegetation, beautiful and strong facetted rock ledge, a stream and several waterfalls. Some of the trail however encompassed a bulldozed section, areas of hurricane debris, some stands of dead trees and eroded slopes, which we welcomed for its own stimulation with different opportunities for art works. The trail overlooked the orderly and picturesque town of Kalvag and absolutely breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding islands. After the initial walk along the trail, the challenge was not one of coming up with a plan for one’s installation but rather to sift through the flood of ideas to create the most satisfying piece to live on the trail.
It was interesting to see how the approach of each feltmaker differed. Some of the art works were in total context with nature, blending closely with the natural surrounding of their site. This was demonstrated in Pamela’s root installation, where she used natural wool tones to match the existing root system, protruding out of the eroded slopes of the hillside. It was seen again in Ayala’s beautification project of a bulldozed area where she emphasized the small delicate flowers of the heather, blue bells, and moss, making them into giant replicas to once again fill this terrain. Other installations were thematic of the area or more generally inspired. Jenny in her painterly approach to feltmaking, created a flat expanse over a rock face that was inspired by the shinning facets of a mountain ledge she could see reflecting the sun in the distance. The works of Lucy, Elin, and Karin Hvoslef, seem to have come from the ideas of the waterfalls that could be seen along the trail. Their individual sites however were 3 unique interpretations; Lucy’s reflected the texture of the waterfall, Elaine seems to play with the movement of the water, and Karin’s seems to reflect the spiritual nature. Some of the installations were more playful in nature as in Solveg’s work, giving life again to a stand of dead trees with masterfully made blue and yellow felt apples. Petra created a playful atmosphere with an eccentric lovable character who climbs into the woods to hug a few trees. The fish theme of this active fishing village also found its way into the trail as Karin Flatoy Svarstad transformed a stand of trees into an underwater scene by incorporating a school of bright blue fish, swimming in formation. Helle, celebrated the diversity of the fish in the sea through her series of three fish sculptures. Each housed a window, highlighting their inner spirit and beauty. And Birgitte, our most prolific artist, looked beyond the obvious to the spiritual nature of the site by the waterfull, creating the creatures who dwell there, perhaps mistaken for illusions by some who pass by.
Of course it was the challenge of using felt works to interpret nature that brought us together but it turned out to be much more, to be a much fuller experience. The greater outcome was getting to know each other, women from different countries, as we worked on our common goal. The chatter, the stories, the sharing of insights, the teasing and the laughter, all filled our time as we worked side by side together for 6 days. The mission to respond to nature, and to expose ourselves through our art, served to enhance the closeness between us even more.
Besides our comradery, one of the most unexpected and enriching outcomes extended beyond our group to the people of Kalvag. The quiet fishing village of Kalvag is immerging as a tourist spot. Never the less, the group of feltmakers who had taken over the community prayer hall for the week may have been an unusual group of visitors. At the beginning of the week, although it was obvious that we were the talk of the town, people tended to keep their distance. But the impetus that changed the dynamics of our experience occurred because of the 2 days that we set aside to work with the children of Kalvag and the surrounding towns. Besides exposing the children to the wonders of feltmaking, it was also a way to give them some ownership of the trail and thus discourage vandalism. The impact of those 2 days was impressive and rose above the satisfaction that our installations alone could give us. The elementary school children, with their enthusiasm, made the trail come alive. Their artwork also added so much life; felted leaves to the dead trees, a canopy of felted ropes hanging from a tree branch, strings of balls bobbing in a small stream along side the road. After we got to know the children in this way our standing in town changed. Now in the afternoon we would go to the trail sites and find children waiting for us, interested to continue their experience with feltmaking or just watch the progression of our art works. They loved our interpretations and it was clear that it expanded their ideas of artist expression.
With the spirit of the children came the adults, walking the trail in the evening lead by their children. They now stopped and talked to us easily. Their appreciation was clearly visible. The large mass of people on opening night, the ongoing speeches of appreciation, the many photos taken of us, was so validating. It gave testimony that we had enjoyed ourselves, made many new friends, pushed our feltmaking limits, but more important, we had left a positive mark on this community. We came to Kalvag to do felted art works, our pieces stayed there, but we left with so much more. It was an experience that I’m sure will stay with each of us in some special way.
Lucy Zercher, who was a participant in the FELT IN NATURE project in Norway, has written this article and she has very kindly allowed me to bring it here. It gives a very good description of our week.