Bruce Engebretson:All Water Holy Water, 2018-19
linen and wool
courtesy of the artist
“Weaving Community Together,” interview on KAXE radio
Based in Osage, Minnesota, Bruce Engebretson is an artisan and community builder primarily engaged in the continuation of traditional weaving, spinning and dyeing techniques with roots in Northern and Central Minnesota. Along with his personal artistic practice, Engebretson collects looms and related artifacts connected to the history of these artforms. In all these respects, Engebretson’s work and his presence in the community draws through lines from rural traditional arts (local and international) into the present moment. His engaged perspective acknowledges how a diverse range of cultural institutions within a community such as churches, art and historical museums, and libraries provide platforms for exchange. Engebretson carries forward this spirit through the organization of tea events at area potlucks and weaving and spinning classes. Though Engebretson credits many mentors, including Norman Kennedy, who learned from the last of the professional hand weavers in Aberdeen, Scotland, his creative journey takes its roots in the multigenerational knowledge of his family.
Encountering a weaving demonstration as a child at the Minnesota State Fair sparked Engebretson’s interest in this art form, and an exploration deepened through inheriting a Basse Lisse tapestry Loom, also known as an Aubusson loom, that can accommodate up to four weavers at once. Engebretson credits many mentors, including Norman Kennedy and others, who learned from the last of the professional hand weavers in Aberdeen, Scotland, his creative journey takes its roots in the multigenerational knowledge of his family:
“My grandmother had a spinning wheel, and I had neighbors who spun,” Engebretson shared with KAXE radio last. “I was fortunate to have people in the community who actually still spun wool . . . Some relatives came from Norway one summer some years later, and they really helped me and showed me how to card wool the right way. None of these people were really middle-class people, they were working-class people and they were fussy about getting it done right, and they didn’t have a lot of time for “playing” with fiber. None of these ladies had that idea in their head. They had other things to do.”
Engebretson’s All Water Holy Water was created to cultivate conversations around the stewardship of water and the expanding oil pipeline industry in his home region. Designed by Beverlee Olson, the piece was woven by Engebretson, community members, and passersby at the artist’s studio in Osage, MN. Engebretson’s community-building practice has continued beyond All Water Holy Water, in the pandemic era, through organizing social distanced teas at area rest stops, specifically for individuals that are immunocompromised.
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