Thursday, May 12, 2022

rya rugs from Finland

Wedding ryijy from central Finland 185 x 152 cm  (6 x 5 feet) (circa 1790)
Tree of Life in the center with two male and two female figures, accompanied by hearts and crosses.  

Spot design ryijy 1825      189 x 130 cm (6'2" x 4'3") 
The initials of the owner (MIT) and the year (1825) are in the upper central field.
  The central field is filled with dots.  The bright red and green colours are typical.  

My father came to Canada from Finland at the age of 5 years with his mother, Anna.

This is a post about Finnish rugs.  First I need to say that there are two kinds of rugs made in Finland.  One type is the woven rag rug, usually quite narrow, used as an everyday rug on floors.  I've written about the Finnish rag rug before (here).   My grandmother, Anna, was locally famous for how fast she could weave a rag rug.  My art piece Not To Know But To Go On references the Finnish rag rug, but is not woven, it is stitched.  

The second type of Finnish rug is the rya or ryijy.  Although the rya is considered as art for the wall now, it originally functioned as a warm bed or horse-drawn sleigh covering.   Rya rugs were woven from wool over a linen warp and have a shaggy pile, often on both sides.  This post is about the rya rug.

I'm inspired to write this post because of my recent discovery of  Tuomas Sopanen's collection of rya rugs.   His collection includes pieces from the late 1700's right through to the 21st century.  I am especially interested in the dot grid and the tree of life designs.     

Wedding ryijy 1825  pile on both sides  206 x 148 cm  (6 '8" x 4'8")
This is a wedding rya.  It has the initials of bride and groom ( ABSD and IIS).  

All the images in this post are from Tuomas Sopanen's book,  The Ryijy Rug Lives On. 

Art historian Leena Willberg wrote the text in the book.  
Tuomas Sopanen translated it into English.

Spot design bedcover ryijy 1843  with pile on both sides 174 x 127 cm (5'7" x 4')
Another red and green rya, made for AKSD 

I use grids of dots often as design elements in my textiles and see a connection to these 18th and 19th century pieces.   

spot design bed cover ryijy mid 19th century 184 x 154 cm (6' x 5')
When the multi-coloured dots are very dense, the pattern is called 'net'. 

Spot design ryijy 1860 183 x 129 cm  (6' x 4'2")
The dots are simple and sparse.  This rya is a bedcover for one person.

I feel that I made something very similar to a rya rug in 2012 with my green and red wool quilt, Canadian Pioneer.  

What is interesting is that I did not see the connection when I made it.  I knew about rya rugs and had researched them but did not come across images of the older ones.  I am floored by the pieces in Mr Sopanen's collection. The aesthetic of the antique rya is similar to mine - or should I say, my aesthetic is similar to that of my Finnish heritage.

I wrote about Canadian Pioneer on this blog here and here.   

Wedding ryijy 1799 171 x 130 cm  (5'6" x 4'3")
An ancient net design, can you find the date 1799 among the figures?
Diamonds / bridal figures / flowering branches / tree of life symbols in eccentric sizes.  
It was woven in two parts and then joined.

Wedding ryijy 1817   184 x 135 cm
The motifs in this rya are symbols of luck and protection:  hearts, hourglasses, crosses, human figures.
It is rare to have a cow in a Finnish rya rug.  
The initials of the bridegroom are in the central heart (INS) along with the year 1817. 
The pink and green colouring is a variation of the typical red and green.   

Look at the wool art piece that I made from two old blankets in 2021.  It too has dots in an orderly grid.  It has a textural pile on the reverse side.  I made it without consciously thinking about the rya rug.  

I am excited to find the heritage wool bed rugs that have been collected by Tuomas Sopanen.   You can order his book directly from this website if you are interested.  An exhibition of Tuomas Sopanen's collection of rya rugs is at the Saari Jarvi museum until May 22, 2022.  

Saarijarvi is my father's home village in Finland.  

Sunday, April 24, 2022


One of the main challenges I have faced as a woman artist is the conflict I feel about caring for someone, loving someone, yet remaining dedicated to my art in an undivided way.
I think that generally men find it much easier to be selfish.  And you do need to be selfish.  Ideally you need 'to care and to not care'.  You need to give yourself completely, while at the same time seeing things from a distance. 
Every important creative act has this duality: of giving everything and then of letting go, so that the created work can have a life of its own.
I would like this book to speak to young women artists - and perhaps to all women who will no doubt face this challenge in their lives at some time and will have to resolve this conflict in their own way.
This seems to be essentially a feminine dilemma.  Throughout history, women have too often been seen as subjects of art, rather than artists.  Their natural propensity for giving themselves up to the experience, combined with an aptitude for stillness, has made many women great muses to great male artists.
As a woman painter, one needs to work out a strategy: I feel the need to put up barriers to protect my solitude.  I agree with Virginia Woolf that the vital thing for a woman artist is ' a room of one's own.'  

Celia Paul
All the previous text  is from the Prologue to Celia Paul's memoir Self Portrait.  

I loved reading this book slowly over about ten days.  I took my time with it because I did not want to finish it.  I snapped it shut after a few pages, saving its depth and resonance for another day.  I consumed it like dark chocolate, loving it, looking forward to the still unread sections.  

By understanding Celia Paul through her very honest self-gaze, I understood myself.  The book is about a woman artist's interiority.  It is rare to find something so poignant and true.

Self Portrait has had rave reviews, please see here and here and here.

Celia Paul is interviewed by the very intelligent and perceptive Judith Thurman here.  
The way I feel about this book is how I feel about my green quilt.  I linger over it.  I'm so in love with spending time with it, intentionally going at it slowly, knowing I will miss handling it when it is finished, but at the same time wanting to work on it, eager to work on it, wanting to see it done so that I can move on, even though I love it in my lap, under my hands.  Becoming finished.  How can I express this feeling in words?

In my mind the name of my quilt is 'lamentation' and it has only been in my hoop for a little more than two months.   When I hand pieced the squares together a year ago, I un-picked and re-stitched over and over as I worked towards creating a meadow of green that would encourage our eye to keep moving.  Now the double grid of quilting stitches seem to give this field a 'mysterious stillness'. 

The rest of this post continues with more text from Celia Paul's memoir.        
Painting is the language of loss.  The scraping-off of layers of paint, again and again, the rebuilding, the losing again  Hoping, then despairing, then hoping.  Can you control your feelings of loss by this process of painting which is fundamentally structured by loss?
Painting has a unique relation to time.

A painting that has been done quickly has a different energy from a painting that has been done slowly.  A painting that has been done quickly is like a newly decorated room and the air is fresh, empty and echoing.  A painting that has been done slowly is like a room that has been quietly lived in: it acquires a mysterious stillness.
When you are overpowered by loss and grief, you stare at the image, almost uncomprehendingly, not knowing or caring about how to define the thing you see.

Celia Paul

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I keep journals

Sometimes, we think that things we say or think are important.   
They are.  

It's worth it to think and feel and remember.
Not worth a lot of money, but worth a lot of SELF.
A notebook / scrap book / is a way to keep a conversation going with the inner inner.
It's a way to keep the self open and trusting and aware.
I spend time every day on my journal.
It's not a waste of time. 
I am worth it.  
I continue learning.  
I study and take notes
The above sketch is of one of Louise Bourgeois' sewn head sculptures.
When I come across old family photos I save them.   

I also save things I find in old journals like this poem by Louise Rogers.

At the front of every journal, I list the books I am reading and give a wee review.

I tape the year on the spine 

Every morning I start a new chapter with the day's date.  
You can't think "my life is more important than the work"   
You have to think that the work is paramount.
One new thing after another
say "what do I like?"
      "what do I want?"
Find out exactly what you want in life.
To progress in life you must give up the things that you do not like.
When you go along with others you are not really living your life.
Find your way.
Happiness is being on the beam with life.
Agnes Martin  said this and I copied it and found it and taped it.
There is a two minute video of me speaking about this on my vimeo account, click here. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

princess or mermaid?

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this recently, but I've been working on my archives.

stitching in car on highway 69 south bound

My archives include photos and papers and actual quilts but this post's text is about my journals.  

(the images in the post are of my recent stitching and grand daughter collaborative drawings)

My journals are 'my book' and I have been writing it for 37 years.  

by 5 year old maia and grandmom 

A few years ago I started to type selected journals into the laptop.  

In the beginning,  I bundled up the books and put them back on the shelf.  

See here.  

by 5 year old maia and grandmom

However, that wrapping only added to the 'journal clutter' 

that I worry about leaving  behind.  

stitching in car on highway 69 north bound

So now I am giving them to Ned to burn one by one.

I will never finish going through all of them,

but the project remains fascinating to me and I do it an hour each day.

Maybe some year I'll use the notes that are organized chronologically to help me  

write a memoir or an autobiographical novel about being a mother artist.

Friday, March 18, 2022

one patch quilts

My hands ache from stitching.
My feet ache from ageing.
My heart aches from continuing on, 
through all the sadness and uncertainty.

I make textiles using just one patch.

(the technique is explained here)

I select one square of cloth and sew it to another one. 

Once I have a field of one patches, I make them stronger by quilting the seams.

The squares are all the same.
The squares are each unique.
Some are organized into rows.
Others appear random, but don't believe it.
They are also organized.
I feel powerless, unable to start the new textile pieces that flood into my brain.

I feel that if I can just finish these two simple cover ups, I can move forward.
I am calling this one Sunshine and more Sunshine

I wonder what is the urgency?

These quilts are not going to fix the war.
I am calling this one Lamentation

They do not protect against the illness.

They do not save beloved children who die.

But they are not a waste of time.

Rather, they are evidence of a time.

A time that we are living through.  

A time that we are grieving through.

All of us.   

Each unique.
Lamentation:  an expression of sorrow, mourning, or regret

Saturday, March 05, 2022

It's about love

Art is about relationships even if it appears to be about nature.

Coastal Trip by Paterson Ewen (1925-2002)  acrylic and metallic paint on gouged plywood  1974

I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario last week.  

Paterson Ewen is one of my favourite artists.

Coastal Trip by Paterson Ewen  1974  (each part is about 60 inches)

I respond with my whole body to the rugged materials and strong marks in his unique paintings.

The scale of his work holds us.  

coastal trip detail by Paterson Ewen  acrylic on plywood cut with first with a router 1974
Monotones (Seascape) by Silke Otto-Knapp watercolour on canvas 2016

I took my 7 year old grand daughter with me.  

We only lasted about an hour.

Monotones (seascape) detail by Silke Otto Knapp  

It's hard work, 

looking and thinking

 and climbing all the curvy stairs.

When we got home we made collaborative drawings with ball point pens in my journal.    

highway 17 return home

Our visit with our son and his family was beautiful and I am so very grateful.