A modern day look at the essential skills of the past

CHISHOLM - A free speaker series highlighting the forgotten arts of weaving, blacksmithing and loom work is starting this month at Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

This is the third speaker series that MDC has hosted since 2019 and focuses on skills that are now artforms or interesting hobbies, but not that long ago these were all essential skills for everyday life and successful industry.

The series starts at 6 p.m. on Jan. 20 and is scheduled to continue for the following three Thursdays.

Mary Erickson is the featured speaker on Jan. 20 with “Kangaspuut: Finnish American Weavers and Their Looms.”

Doug Swenson is the featured speaker for Jan 27 with, “Blacksmith of the late 19th Century: A time of transition.”

Bruce Engebretson is the speaker for Feb. 3 with “Immigrant Style Looms: More than just ‘rug machines.”’

Rounding out the series is Kristy Balder on Feb. 10 with, “Flax to Linen - Traditional Methods from Field to Fabric.”

Light refreshments will be provided, and there will also be a time for audience questions and answers at each event.

“We’re excited to have all of these speakers lined up for this series,” Anya Kircher, MDC Museum Educator wrote in an email earlier this week.”

Kircher said Erickson and Balder are both experienced weaving demonstrators at MDC for the museum’s summer craft demonstration programs, and enjoy sharing their love of the craft with visitors.

Meanwhile Egebretson came highly recommended by Balder and another member of the Range Fiberart Guild Barb Leulling, who has also demonstrated weaving at MDC.

Swenson is also familiar at MDC, and helped set up a blacksmith demonstration program in the summers of 2019 and 2020.

“He built the Viking style forge they used and gave a talk here in 2019 about Viking era blacksmithing,” she said.

Erickson, of Mountain Iron, said she has 40 years of experience working with looms.

“I took a class in college on weaving, and I decided that was for me, because I was always looking for a connection between science and art.

Once she saw how the patterns worked, Erickson said she found a connection in weaving that she described as being, “kind of an anthropologic, archeologist connection.”

For her presentation on Jan. 20, Erickson said she plans to recap a program she and Janet Niemi put together for Finnfest 2017.

Niemi did a great deal of research on the North Shore of Lake Superior on the old looms and Finnish weavers, while she added the story of Finnish weavers from the Iron Range, she noted. “I was lucky to be part of the Range Fiber Art Guild and meet all of these weavers 40 years ago.”

Erickson said she is fascinated by the stories told by the Finnish weavers, and finds they provide a connection to her own Finnish heritage.

Engebretson, 55, of the Osage, Minn. region in Becker County, said he was first introduced to weaving as a teenager when he attended a demonstration at the state fair.

“I started spinning wool in the 1970s and started weaving in the late 80s, with the help of neighbors, friends and other weavers,” Engebretson said.

For many years he’s done demonstrations about pioneer textile work, and shared stories from people he’s encountered. He also teaches at the Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont, and credits the schools founder, Norman Kennedy and its director Kate Smith, two weaving instructors there for helping him learn the skill. He said three women he met who lived in Finland during World War II helped him learn how to spin flax.

Engebretson said wool that comes from sheep takes very little preparation as opposed to flax that is derived from plants and is used to make linens.

He said he’s looking forward to his presentation in the speaker series.

“I’m interested in history in general, and usually I give a good presentation,” Engebretson said.

Balder, formerly of Jacobson, moved to Goodland about 20 years ago, and said she joined the Range Fiberart Guild in 2008 out of a desire to learn how to spin wool on a spinning wheel.

“The guild members inspired me with all of their beautiful handwoven towels and rugs,” Balder said via email.

Balder eventually purchased her own loom from fellow guild member Ruth Koski, of Virginia. Leuelling, a guild member from Angora, taught her how to wrap the loom and to weave on it.

Balder also attended a class on spinning linen, which happened to be taught by Engebretson.

“I think the series offers a great opportunity for folks to learn more about these crafts that used to be an important part of everyday life,”Balder said. “I look forward to sharing the traditional methods of growing flax and making linen. I think people might be surprised to learn that flax grows well here in northern Minnesota, and that it’s possible to make linen/cloth from flax grown in our backyards, using the same methods our great or great-grandparents used.”

Balder said she’s also looking forward to attending the other presentations in the speaker series.

Admission to the speaker series is free of charge. For more information go to the MDC website at mndiscoverycenter.com.

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