Art in Denmark

Dr. Sabine Wieber provides insight on art noveau textiles in Skaerbaek

“Honour to women” were the words Sabine Wieber opened with in her talk focusing on art nouveau textiles in Skaerbaek, Denmark.

Held at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) on Wednesday, the talk was based around the development of Skaerbaek’s first weaving workshop and school. Wieber drew on a particular history most of the audience was widely unfamiliar with, and filled in the blank spaces of our knowledge with the colours of the rainbow.

As a lecturer in Art History at the University of Glasgow, much of Wieber’s work combines gender studies with specialization in German and Austrian visual and material cultures.

Active from 1896 to 1903, the Skaerbaek workshop and school was created due to both the “advancing industriousness in the home and the rapid deterioration of local handcrafting industries,” Wieber said. She also cited its creation in part to give women opportunities for local employment outside of the comfort of their home.

In a world of material cultures that gave attention to designers and artists such as William Morris, the Skaerbaek workshop showcased its female weavers as the new faces of what was a newfound 19th-century revival in tapestry weaving.

Every tapestry was unique to the weaver that created it, seen in the individualistic style and signature with which each woman weaved them. The Skaerbaek trademark on each tapestry also proved the workshop to be a highly regulated enterprise where no other burgeoning businesses could claim the workshop or designer’s ownership. Wieber also points to a “cross -cultural European enterprise of national identity”, citing Skaerbaek as having been a part of Germany at the time opportunity arose to claim a proud sense of national identity during the 1897 International Art Exhibition, and later on a grander scale at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

This also brought back attention to the Scandinavian techniques in which weaving was originated. These nostalgic notions of the past engaged with its present found a rediscovery of original folk art combined with a newfound design of simplicity.

Heinrich Vogeler’s 1898 tapestry entitled The Promenade is an encapsulation of the Scandinavian past tied with the German present. Wieber points to the simple geometric shapes as a reflection of the German language, while pointing to the figures’ emotional bond with the sea as a symbol of the “mood and mysticism of Medieval legends”. The Skaerbaek workshop and school was a vital part of the weaving and applied arts revitalization, a period of history appropriately titled the German design reform movement.

It allowed for women to thrive both in a career outside of the home and for the German national identity to recall a Scandinavian past.

Wieber was successful in giving the audience a slice of her deeper studies into German material culture studies as told from multiple points of view.

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