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.