Before we went to Rome, I got the chance to see this exhibition at a local gallery.
The artist, Reidun Øvrebotten, was inspired by an album of old portraits and the memories of her own greatgrandmother, and wanted to tell the story of what it was like being a woman living in our coastal area a hundred years ago.
She has done so by highlighting the stories of ten individual women, all of whom lived in this municipality, and are still remembered by the local people. Each woman has a special and unique story, yet their fates were not at all uncommon in this area at the time.
After researching and writing down their stories, the artist made ten costumes which were linked to each of the ten women. The costumes were made in the style of that time, which is so well documented by the photographs where people are dressed up in their very best clothes to go to the photographer in town, – but she added some unique details which connect the costumes to each of the individual women.
One of the ten women is Ane Henrikke. She fell in love with the boy on the neighbouring farm, married at 26, and by the time she was 44 had borne 9 children, but only 4 of them got to grow up. Of the other 5, two died as infants, two from scarlet fever, and one in an accident.
The artist made a special wide collar for Ane Henrikke’s dress. Photo transfers of children’s faces have been placed between sheets of water soluble plastic and oversewn. Then symbols of love and death have been cut out from the collage, before it has been sewn onto a black fabric.
Although her faith was put to the test so many times, Ane Henrikke strongly believed that God has a plan with everything that happens. She lived on the farm till she was 90, seeing her surviving children grow up and get established in good marriages.
The costume above was dedicated to Brite. She was so lucky as to get a little bit of education before she married a farmer at 22. By the time she was 40, she had had 13 children, of whom 11 grew up. In addition to being a mother of 11 and a farmer’s wife, – which was a hard job at the time, – she was also a midwife. She delivered her last baby, a boy, at the ripe old age of 82, when other help did not arrive in time. She lived till she was 93.
The details on Brite’s dress symbolizes birth, life, and growth.
An old authentical bridal dress was made into a costume dedicated to Kristine Marie. She married Mons at 20, and at 26 she gave birth to her fourth child. That year the fisheries failed, and Mons went to America to get work so they could pay off the debts on the fishing boat he had recently bought. Kristine and the children stay back home with her parents. Mons is lucky, and for three years letters and money arrive regularly back home, but then they suddenly stop. All attempts to find out what has happened fail, including a search conducted by people of the Salvation Army. Kristine Marie has a nervous breakdown, and is ill for a year. As time passes, she realizes she must get work to support herself and the children, and after some time she gets a job as a cook. She cannot have her children with her when working, so has to leave them with different relatives, and only gets to see them in her holidays; – two weeks every summer. She lives like this for 8 years, all the time hoping to hear from Mons.
Later she marries a farmer, who dies after a few years. She lives on this farm for the rest of her life, always wondering what became of her beloved Mons who disappeared over in America. She was forever his bride.
Amalie Jørgina was never a bride. In her youth, she got a skin disorder which caused her hair to fall off, so she was bald for the rest of her life, and she always wore a scarf both when inside the house and out. She was the oldest of 8 siblings, and stayed on her parents’, – and later her brother’s, farm all her life. She eventually had a small house of her own, and she tok in sewing and generally helped around the farm.
Amalie Jørgina’s dress is adorned with trims that would typically have adorned the items in a young girl’s hope chest at the time. Bed sheets and pillow cases would have crocheted lace, or maybe even Hedebo lace, like the one on the shoulder piece of the dress. Hardanger was also popular for a time, and also what was known as English embroidery, as seen on the pillow cases in the picture below. Amalie Jørgina never got to use these in her bridal chamber, so they adorn her dress instead.
Amalie Jørgina was my husband’s great aunt, and all the children in the family were very fond of her. They all loved running errands if it involved a trip to Fasta’s house (Faster means father’s sister). She was a very kind person, and all their memories of her are good ones.
Walking around the room at the gallery and reading all those stories, was a very special experience, and a useful reminder of what life was like only a couple of generations back. When the stories say that they lived on farms, one must remember what a farm was like in this area. The coastline is mountainous, and there is often only a narrow strip of land between the shore and the mountains, so farms were usually small, with only a cow or three, some sheep or goats, hens, maybe a horse, and sometimes a pig. This was most often not enough to make a living, so the men also had to go out fishing in order to make ends meet. Thus, most of the daily farm work, like milking, feeding, and watering the animals, would be carried out by the women. Water would have to be carried in buckets, as most barns, or houses for that matter, did not have water pipes.
In summer the animals grazed in the mountains so the fields could be harvested for winter fodder. Then the women walked an hour or two every morning and evening to milk the cows and carry the milk home to the farm.
They carried the milk on their backs in contraptions like the one above, called “hylkje”. Thus their hands were free so they could knit while walking to and from.
By utilising every minute of the day, and never let their hands rest, they were able to create both the useful things they needed …….
…. as well as the beautful clothing some of them are wearing in the photos….
…. and beautiful bedding….
…. with intricate monograms…
… and even monogrammed shirts.
Sunday was the day for resting. Then they would put on their best black shawl with long silky fringes, put the glasses and hymn book in the handbag and go to church. Some of them would have to sail or row across the fjord to get to the church, – then they would not put on their best clothes till they reached the shore close to the church.
In bad weather going to church, or going anywhere, could be quite a hazard, as is told in some of the stories.
This is the dress dedicated to the artist’s greatgrandmother, Maria Alette. Her speciality was working with wool, hence the woollen plait on her dress.
The exhibition is also named after her and is called: “In Memory of Maria”.
It is now closed, but the artist is working on the possibilities of making this a permanent exhibition. I hope she will succeed.