Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Viking Reminders: They're Everywhere

I’ve learned that Vikings are Scandinavians from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, so, when referring to Vikings during the Viking Age I’ll try to be as specific as I can. Scandinavians explored Europe via their longships through trade and warfare.  Trade:  what they made to sell; they were excellent craftsman.  Warfare:  it was a way of life in all of Europe at that period in time as well as the Viking Age.  For a time, Scandinavians were just better at it and gained a reputation because of it.  No one else had used a fleet boats down inland waterways to plunder before.

My husband and I were recently vacationing in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada on Kootenay Lake(camping and touring the area by car).  Nelson is only one of many charming towns around this beautiful lake.  There was an odd familiarity about the area.  It occurred to me that the landscape of Nelson BC was reminiscent of Norway and the infamous fjords. 

North Kootenay Lake looking north towards "Twin Bays" (on the left) with Mount Willet in background
Printed with permission of Doug Pyper Photographics Kaslo, British Columbia, Canada

Fjord in Geiranger Norway, Author: Hesse1309,Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Boats—it was all about boats.  Viking life revolved around this mode of transportation on their myriad waterways (fjords).  The boats are called longships.  They are long and flat-bottomed; swift and graceful; crews could row or sail them.  Longships could be maneuvered ashore on coastlines, lakes or riverbanks; they were meticulously made by hand with stunning accoutrement; and they traveled easily in high seas, lakes or rivers.  Eventually, they traveled in fleets.  These longships were so important to the Viking culture they became interment vessels; the Sutton Hoo being only one example.
Viking Ship Museum and the Oseberg Ship, Oslo, Norway.
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
Much to my surprise, while watching a crew race broadcast from the Olympics (this link to a video takes a few seconds to come up), I heard the commentator reference Vikings.  He said: “If you stand here as a spectator, you can kind of imagine what it would have been like standing on the shores watching a Viking invasion.”  He said this at minute 1:29 into the race.  Crew rowing is reminiscent of a longship—just a scaled down version. Oars power skimming the water’s surface . . . squint . . . you’ll see similarities.  The commentator's imagination saw a fleet of Viking longships.

Syracuse University rowing crew about 1910 on Onondaga Lake, Post Card from Onondaga
County Public Library collection, Wikimedia Commons

Where did the Vikings go with all these longships? 

Ø Vikings from Norway raided and/or settled in, among other places, Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany and France (they already lived in Normandy). and some in Muslim Spain. 

Ø SwedishVikings mainly traveled and settled east into Russia and down Volga River to the Black Sea and Constantinople.

Ø DanishVikings moved to the south towards the British Isles and Ireland (and Normandy).

What was happening in the other European countries? The art of the day was Christian art; the Christian religion was becoming the religion of the rulers (states) in power; monasteries were making biblical manuscripts in mass in all but the Scandinavian's native countries. The Vikings may have been conquerors but had not been conquered, per se.  There weren’t navies to reciprocate where they navigated their longships. To me, this seems reminiscent of early Rome's conquests by land. That's partially how the upper echelon in Rome became rich--collecting booty in a lot of cases.

Learning about art history is learning about history simultaneously.

Mary B.

P.S.  The word ‘Viking’ originally meant making an expedition or journey by water.  Subsequently, it evolved. Now, if one asks what the word ‘Viking’ means, the answer may be a raiding Norwegian wearing a horned helmet collecting booty (stolen goods taken by means of a boat). Reminiscently, the word ‘booty’ means a collection of goods taken by force or stolen—loot.  At least it did mean that.  Nowadays, it’s evolving.  If one asks a young person what ‘booty’ is, one may receive a wholllllle different answer.     I’m just saying . . .

Monday, August 6, 2012

Past and Present: A Refuge

My favorite medium for creating textile art is silk fabric.  Research of this textile brought me to a passion for all things related to silk, including the Silk Road.   The Bamiyan Valley, located in the Hindu Kush mountain range,  was a stop on the Silk Road for road-weary travelers, merchants and caravans.  Also, Buddhist pilgrims came there for monastic study.  


When adding the words textile and China together thoughts of silk enter my mind.  In ancient times, the Silk Road connected the East to the West—from China to the Roman Empire and beyond.  One route passed through the Bamiyan Valley, formerly a district of the Persian Empire.  There, two colossal statues of the Buddha were carved into the mountain.  The tallest is about 180 feet, the height of a 10 story building.  Monasteries housing monks, and chapels for pilgrims were carved into the rock surrounding these two statues.  The figures were painted gold and draped in silk.
Around two thousand years later, the giant statues were in disrepair and the niches occupied by homeless Afghan refugees.  A small group of people ruling Afghanistan called Taliban were determined to destroy these statues.  A cry of protest echoed from around the world, including the people of Afghanistan.  On March 1, 2001 this wonder of the ancient world was obliterated.

I wrote those words in 2001 about the fiber collage pictured below that I was compelled to create in order to process and understand the mentioned destruction.

"Old Man Sitting on a Yellow Rock"                                                                                                                            24" x 55" 

At times, that’s what I do with the making of art―come to an understanding of a particular subject matter. It was my first year of art college and, at 50 years old, I had just read the book  Siddhartha. My world view and life were changing dramatically and quickly as I was totally immersed in art. Then, this occurred.

The statues had already incurred disfigurement (literally) in prior years. My question was simply, why was distruction necessary?  Among other answers: It didn’t destroy what it represented; it changed nothing but the physical image of its history; and it brought both site and sight back to prominence―it was part the flow Siddhartha learned and accepted.

The taller Buddha of Bamiyan before (left picture) and after destruction (right). Derivative work: Zaccarias
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The TAG-5’s exploration of art in an historical context has brought these statues back into my focus.  Mary L. knew my journey making this piece and a few weeks ago gave me an article (at a TAG-5 meeting) from a National Geographic magazine.  She knew I would be interested in new information regarding these statues.  Not only was I excited to read about it, I was excited to learn more about the materials used in creating these sculptures.  They consist of sandstone, clay plaster and goat hairs which prevent cracking when the clay dried.  Note that the draping on one of the statues had a Greco-Roman influence.  Looking at the images NationalGeographic magazine, one can imagine how beautiful the statues would have appeared when draped in yards and yards of colorful silk in contrast to the desert's tan.  In my imagination, it was like a beacon to those needing an oasis. A hint of this contrast is the woman’s attire on the link to National Geographic.

Statue of Buddha (1976) Author: Marco Bonavoglia

Closer view of statue of Buddha (1976)Author: Marco Bonavoglia
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Why am I explaining all this?  As mentioned in previous posts, there is always new technology that  helps understand art and its history.  In this case, there are researchers at Aachen University, Germany, developing 3-D technology to recreate these statues “virtually” based on the fragments in the niches.  As one of the great wonders of the world, it is not gone forever.  In fact, we may get a better sense of what it looked like in its original state. 

Mary B. 

P.S.  My scroll-style silk fabric collage has been rolled up for a very long time; I decided it was time to unroll it for you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It Has Arrived!

The TAG-5 is very excited to announce an article written about our group has been published in the current issue of Quilting Arts Magazine(August/September 2012). The article, by Lynn Krawczyk, gives our readers more background as to who we are and what we do as artists. It was fun for us to see which images of our work were chosen for this article.

Our intention is to inspire each of our blog readers as we share some of our art history studies with you.


Replenishing Your Creative Well:
Fiber Art Groups
Lynn Krawczyk
The Thursday Art Group

Mary B.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tomatoes and Vikings??

What happens when summer finally arrives in the Pacific Northwest?

My husband renamed the month of June this year to Junuary because there was so much cold and rain with very few sunny days.  I planted my small garden too early in the month of May and it is still suffering from the too early syndrome as there wasn’t enough sun in June. 

Mary B’s leggy tomato plants in the middle of July!

The TAG-5 is simply a group of women who’ve experienced      L I F E lately―children graduating from college or coming home for the summer from college; children moving to another state with the first grandchild in tow; elderly parents who are infirm and needing to downsize and move; and the passing of a parent to name a few of the personal things.

Then there are the other L I F E things: vacations and planning vacations, TAG-5 field trips, gardening, landscaping, reading, upholstering furniture, sewing and delivering custom projects, sky diving, having fun and embracing the sun when it shines, and trying to keep up with our art study--and not necessarily in that order!  Natural vitamin D can be in short supply here, and when the sun comes out, all-of-a-sudden we want to be outdoors instead of indoors.  Plus, we need to take time to just make art since we are a creative group of five!  Get the picture? 

So, lately when the TAG-5 is together on Thursday mornings, we’ve sometimes been only two people having a cheese Danish, coffee and conversation.  When we are four or five, we’ve spent time with personal catching-up and being a support system when those L I F E things happen.  Remember, we were girlfriends first!

Leif Ericson on the shore of newly discovered Vinland (Newfoundland), Book from 1908, Mary MacGregor: Stories of the Viking, Wikimedia Commons

When TAG-5 met last Thursday, we revisited our art study focus.  None of us was ready to move into another time period, so we are on the Viking trail (sail?)at this time. The word ‘Viking’ originally meant making an expedition or journey by water and evolved from there.  The word had no negative connotation.  The voyager did not wear horned hats, as pictured above, but they did have clasps (brooches) to keep their wraps on, they did drink out of horns and wore cuffs and belts with ornamentation.  Instead of telling someone to go-take-a-hike, one could say go-take-a-viking! Just saying . . . I digress . . . but, they were an itinerant lot according to the map below.

Vikings in the 8th -10th centuries, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons
(Names of places are in German language, but are close enough to English to figure them out! )
Can you find Aachen from where Charlemagne reigned?
Interesting to see the rivers that moved the Vikings to the Middle East.

Their L I F E included art, as learned in the Sutton Hoo post.  Looking for more Viking information?  There is a great PBS documentary called “Michael Wood’s Story of England:Romans to Normans.”  This episode investigates Vikings in England. They weren’t all pirates and pillagers; but  people moving from place-to-place or simply commingling with other tribes for their human survival.  I found this absolutely fascinating. 
After viewing this particular PBS episode in the series, my curiosity took over:  If I lived in that time, what would art be?  What would my art/creative pursuit be? Did they call it "art" or was there another term for an individual's creativity?   Did their art always have a functional quality, or was there anything just plain decorative for decorative's sake? Would I have had time to make art while living a subsistence L I F E without the advancements of the last 2,000 years? Is any creative process art as well as craft? (i.e. boat building, tool making, wood carving, spinning, weaving, lace making, or baking bread to name a few. (I say yes!) What questions would you ask them about their art?   And, who put the art in artifacts?
From tomatoes to Vikings, I remain

Mary B.

of Scandinavian and British ancestry
and glad I don't have to rely on my garden for subsistence!

P.S.  I learned from the documentary that Charlemagne specifically purchased woven cloth from "Vikings" in England because of its quality. The map above is a key to other Viking influenced art. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the Sutton Who? ?

No, it’s the Sutton Hoo and is considered the greatest archeological find in Anglo-Saxon history.  They are group of burial mounds of ca. 600 AD located on what was private property (the 225 acre Sutton Hoo Estate) overlooking the river Deben in the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.   Initially, only two of the seventeen mounds were excavated in the summers of 1939.

 What did these mounds look like?
Part of the Sutton Hoo gravefield showing Mound 1 and others (foreground), Mound 2, reconstructed (middle distance) and Sutton Hoo House (distance). Author: Dr. Steven Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons
Prior to excavation, the mounds appeared as random hills located on heathlands.    As a side note, during WWII ditches were added to Suffolk heathlands to discourage enemy gliders from landing there.

Burial mound 2 at Sutton Hoo, England; as reconstructed after excavation to supposed original Anglo-Saxon form, looking east, showing the surrounding quarry-ditch. Wikimedia Commons

What was found in the mounds?

An archeologist found burial ships in the style of Viking “clinker built” ships  buried in the mounds.  It was only the second time in history that a burial ship had been found. 
Replica of the ship from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. Author: Russell Scott, Wikimedia Commons

Long and slender, these ships were shallow with what appeared to be two bows. Not only were they used as burial ships, but as transport vessels.  Depending on their size, “clinker built” ships could carry just enough people to raid and pillage down European river systems and back home again.  On the other hand, they could swiftly move across large bodies of water.  

Screen capture of image from home movie, shot by Harold John Phillips, of 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo burial ship. Permission for unlimited use granted by son William Phillips. Uploaded by grandson Jeremy Gilbert, Wikimedia Commons

Model of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. The placement of the burial chamber is marked white.
Author: Steven J. Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons

The largest Sutton Hoo burial ship was 90 feet long.  Because most of the ship had rotted away, there was only an impression left of its structure in the soil, plus the metal nails.   

It also contained a hoard of treasures fit-for-a-king, and that’s who was buried there, a great king.  They found a sword, scepter, silver utensils, gold coins, jewelry including belt buckle, garment clasps, and a purse lid of precious metal with precious stones such as garnet, and intricate enamel work. 

Sutton Hoo purse lid, British Museum, Photo by Robroyaus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. The design elements are sitting on a newly created background as the original had rotted away.

Shoulder clasp (open) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. Gold and precious stones.

Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Anglo-Saxon golden belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, Suffolk (England). 7th century AD. British Museum. Author: Michel wal Creative Commons Attribution License.

Bottom of hanging-bowl 2 from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License.  Metal fragments of the bowl have been positioned on a glass framework.

Replica of gold coins and ingots from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. 37 coins, 3 blanks, 2 small ingots. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License

Fragments of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Reg. No. 1939,1010.203, Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

Replica of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Maplewood, with electrotyped fittings, bone bridge and gut strings.
 Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

The most famous treasure was a helmet with full face mask. 

Sutton Hoo parade helmet ( British Museum, restored). Although based on late Romanhelmets of spangenhelm type, the immediatecomparisons are with contemporary Vendel Age helmets from eastern Sweden.wikipedia commons 
Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. 7th century AD. British Museum.

These art treasures of ca. 600 AD, and more, are currently housed in the British Museum.

What about textiles and the Sutton Hoo?
“Textiles (around and on the central structure).  The burial chamber was evidently rich in textiles, represented by many fragments preserved, or replaced by metal corrosion products. They included quantities of twill (possibly from cloaks, blankets or hangings), and the remains of cloaks with characteristic long-pile weaving. There appear to have been more exotic coloured hangings or spreads, including some (possibly imported) woven in stepped lozenge patterns using a Syrian technique in which the weft is looped around the warp to create a textured surface. Two other colour-patterned textiles, near the head and foot of the body area, resemble Scandinavian work of the same period.”  Wikipedia Commons

Until next time,

Mary B.

      ·       Field Trip!!! (In my dreams):

      ·       Here’s a Kahn Academy link to the Sutton Hoo.
·        Here’s a highly academic connection between the Sutton Hoo and art history:
“Sutton Hoo is a cornerstone of the study of art in Britain in the 6th–9th centuries. Professor Henderson, summarising, calls the ship treasures 'the first proven hothouse for the incubation of the Insular style.' A full assemblage of objects of very varied origins are combined among the possessions of a person of the highest social degree. The gold and garnet fittings show the creative fusion of foregoing techniques and motifs derived from them, by a master-goldsmith working for such a patron.
From the gathering together of such possessions, and the combination or transformation of their themes and techniques in new productions, the synthesis of Insular art emerges. Drawing on Irish, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon, native British and Mediterranean artistic sources, Insular art is a fusion more complex than the purely Anglo-Irish expressed by ' Hiberno-Saxon' art. The 7th century Book of Durrow, first survival of the gospel-book series including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, owes as much to Pictish sculpture, to British millefiori and enamelwork and Anglo-Saxon cloisonne metalwork, as to Irish art.
This fusion in the Sutton Hoo treasury and workshop precedes the (often royal) religious context of the scriptoria. There is thus a continuum from pre-Christian royal accumulation of precious objects from diverse cultural sources, through to the art of gospel-books, shrines and liturgical or dynastic objects in which those elements were blended. It is a parallel expression of the formation of English and Insular cultural identity, and the dissemination of royal values. That is part of the fascination of Sutton Hoo.”  Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Papyrus / Parchment / Vellum / Paper

Surfaces—usually one looks at what’s on the surface rather than the surface itself, especially when it comes to books.  Since we’ve been exploring manuscripts produced in monastic scriptoriums, perhaps knowing more about those writing surfaces might be interesting.

Little did I know when I began looking for writing and painting surfaces related to the early medieval period (~600 AD – 1000 AD) there would be so much information available.  Things I wanted to understand were:  Who was using these surfaces? What was being used?  When it was being used? Where was it being used? And, why use one material over another?

Whoa! That’s way too much to post. 

However, if one is interested in a complete timeline (2,500,000 BCE to 2012 CE) on transcripts of all sorts, there is an extensive one on line and it’s fascinating. There is also a how-to guide on medieval bookbinding.  This site goes into a paragraph or so of history, for example, the word ‘book’ or ‘codex' is from the Latin word caudex, meaning ‘tree trunk’ and so forth. Also fascinating!

Roman-Style Wax Tablet:  

 National Museum of Wales (Cardiff). Part of a wooden writing tablet
from the ancient Roman fortress of Caerleon, Wales. Wikimedia Commons

Made of wood and covered with a layer of wax. Used during the Middle Ages as a portable and reusable writing surface.  Along with other treasures, these tablet books have been unearthed in bogs as far north from Rome as Hadrian’s Wall in England . . . with writing on them. My guess is that the bogs of England are a kin to the La Brea Tar Pits in California!


Papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus) at Kew Gardens, London, England. Wikimedia Commons

Papyrus is manufactured from the paper-like fiber or pith of the papyrus plant. It is a woven material of fine threads. Not only was it first known to be used as a writing surface, but was also used for boats, mattresses, mats, rope, sandals, and baskets in ancient Egypt. It was made into long scrolls for long documents. Unfortunately, it is not pliable and is susceptible to moisture and excessive dryness.

The Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles. Wikimedia Commons

In dry climates, papyrus is stable and rot resistant when stored properly.  Stored in humid conditions, the material can be destroyed by mold. In Europe, if this writing material lasted more than 200 years it was exceptional.  If it is not perfect quality, the writing surface is irregular and harder to write or paint on.

When books started being made, it was found that it was faster to turn a page than to keep rolling, unrolling, and rolling the scrolls again and again to find something fast.  Thus, parchment came into favor again. It could be made anywhere, not just imported from Alexandria.  


Detail of central European (Northern) type of finished parchment made of goatskin stretched on
a wooden frame Wikimedia Commons

Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin. The skins are split. Different from leather, parchment is limed but not tanned. This papyrus substitute was developed around 250 BC when it became unavailable from its only source, Alexandria in Northern Africa.  It was commonly used for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. Although parchment is also affected by environment causing buckling, unlike papyrus it can initially be folded to make individual pages.

Most parchment books would be bound with wooden boards and clamped with brass clasps or leather straps. These closures became decorative features even after paper made them unnecessary.

Sachsenspiegel manuscript of 1385 (sister manuscript of Harffer Sachsenspiegel),
photographed by Britta Lauer Creative Commons

Modern vegetable (paper) parchment is manufactured today from pulp wood fibers.


 The Marriage, 1350s, miniature on vellum by Niccolò da Bologna, 1350s,
National gallery of Art, Washington DC Creative Commons

Vellum is a finer-quality parchment and was generally made from split skin of a young animal, like calfskin, kidskin or lambskin, although other skins were used.  Vellum is similarly processed as parchment.  It is actually more durable than paper and documents such as diplomas were and are still written it.  Vellum is still used for Jewish scrolls, of the Torah in particular, for luxury book-binding, and various calligraphy documents such as The Constitution of Vermont shown below. Modern “paper vellum” (vegetable vellum [paper]) is not from mammal skin, but of plasticized cotton.

Vermont Constitution vellum copy, 1777. Attribution: Jim Hood a.k.a. GearedBull Creative Commons

Purple Parchment

Folio 7v from the Rossano Gospels, the Good Samaritan. Creative Commons

Known as 'purple parchment,' these manuscripts were actually written on a high quality vellum and dyed purple.  “This was at one point supposedly restricted for the use of Roman or Byzantine Emperors, although in a letter of Saint Jerome of 384 [sic.AD], he “writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum and clothed with gems. . .” (^ Needham, 21). The lettering may be in gold or silver.  Later the practice was revived for some especially grand illuminated manuscripts produced for the Emperors in Carolingian art and Ottonian art, in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere.  Some just use purple parchment for sections of the work; the 8th century Anglo-Saxon England Stockholm Codex Aureus alternates dyed and un-dyed pages.”(Wikipedia)


  Well, I'm thinking this is another post ! !

Mary B.