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Title: The fabric of a nation : weaving visual representations of Norwegian women's work with textiles around the year 1905
Author: Corbet Milward, Catherine Frances
ISNI:       0000 0004 9355 671X
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis explores the visual representation of Norwegian women’s textile skills before and after the turn of the twentieth century. It focuses on four forms of visual culture made between the 1880s, and around 1905: painting, photography, woven textiles, and the embroidered dress. By asking what textiles can reveal about Norwegian women’s lives, and the country in which they lived, the thesis considers what lower and middle-class women’s work with the loom and needle discloses about women living in rural and urban regions during an age defined by two significant issues. Firstly, the fight for Norwegian women’s rights; secondly, calls for national independence from Sweden. To address these questions, the dissertation examines the construction, circulation, collection, categorisation, and critique of painting and photography showing embroidered, woven and sewn goods. It also considers the textile items that women created by hand and by the machine. By comparing and contrasting the expertise and experiences of women from poorer farming backgrounds based in inland and coastal areas of Norway, their working-class counterparts in Kristiania (now Oslo), and women of the bourgeoisie, the thesis investigates a segment of society which has, hitherto, received little attention from British art historians. It breaks new ground by analysing textile objects alongside imagery, and aims to comprehend how traditional and ingrained practical and decorative techniques mastered by a woman’s hand may have played a critical role in the modernisation of a country. Whether this was through the cultivation of a new identity, as much as through the natural evolution of a lifestyle, is considered. Furthermore, the assessment of ordinary, unremarkable handiwork, alongside prized textile pieces, is presented as re-evaluating what defined women’s taste, their day-today activities, and their physical contribution within an emergent nation which became sovereign in 1905. It is suggested that Norwegian women may have been conscious of using ideologies connected to women’s domestic textile work when furthering the cause of their own gender, as much as their own country. A socio-historic approach drives the research. Attention is paid to accessible and less available, privately and publicly owned primary sources, as well as interviews and regional field work. Rather than providing a stylistic survey of textiles, a discussion is advanced that contextualises imagery and item. This method addresses the extent to which women’s textile-related abilities, both artistic and applied, may have been necessary for historic and social reasons on a regional, national and international scale. Resting on a narrative in which regional and metropolitan women and their textiles are prominent as subject matter, the dissertation is divided into three parts. The first provides an introductory overview of the coinciding socio-political, economic, geographical and cultural circumstances influencing women and country. The second assesses how rural women made textiles in rural regions, and surveys what was made for the interior, for market and for the body. The third addresses the experiences of women who were involved in textile work in Kristiania. For instance, in their capacity as factory hands, seamstresses and artists. The conclusion serves to show that metropolitan-based ideologies concerning nationalism and feminism, commercialism and consumerism, led to rurally-inspired pieces adopting different meanings when their makers and owners relocated elsewhere.
Supervisor: Thomson, Richard ; Fowle, Frances Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Norway ; women ; visual culture ; nationhood ; textiles