Port Townsend woman weaves tapestry for hospital
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Weaver Inge Norgaard stands in front of two-thirds of “The Hem of the Sky,” which she developed for a California hospital. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND -- A noted Port Townsend weaver will travel to California next month to install a three-paneled tapestry into a hospital's meditation room, with the purpose of providing peace and solace for patients under stress.

It took Inge Norgaard more than a year to complete "The Hem of the Sky."

The tapestry consists of three 36-inch-by-42-inch representations of the San Joaquin River delta and estuary, which is near St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, Calif., where the commissioned work is to be displayed.

Norgaard, 58, was approached by hospital officials looking for a palliative project after they heard of her work and saw samples on her website, www.ingenorgaard.com.

While it was a high-technology connection that allowed her to acquire the commission, her process is traditional.

She works the same way that weavers have for hundreds of years.

Watched the river

Norgaard visited the area and sat on the edge of the river several times over a period of weeks until the setting had made a mental impression.

She then made several watercolor sketches and presented them to the client, who chose a theme.

Norgaard painted a full-scale representation of each tapestry, holding it behind the loom as she wove the tapestry.

While weaving, she could see only a few inches at a time.

The whole piece wasn't visible until it was removed from the loom -- when there was no way to change the result.

"It's not like a painting where you can touch up the mistakes," she said.

Professional artist

Norgaard has been a professional artist for more than 30 years.

Her works have been displayed close to home -- in Port Townsend, Port Angeles, Bainbridge Island and Seattle -- as well as all over the nation, and outside of it, in British Columbia, Denmark and Holland.

She won't say how much she will be paid for the new tapestry series but characterized the commission as "a year's salary."

She doesn't feel her livelihood has been affected by the poor economy "because not very many people spend a lot of money on art at any time."

Her market, then, is a narrow one.

"A lot of people feel stupid in front of art. They feel intimidated," she said.

"If you go to a museum and see a piece that moves you, that's fantastic, but if you don't like any of it, that's all right."

Contemplative art

Much of what Norgaard produces is calming and contemplative, like this new tapestry or a series of mixed-media flower pictures that use plastic milk carton fragments as petals.

But at times, her work is more political.

And it can begin in an unlikely place.

Several years ago, Norgaard was in the women's bathroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when she found an unsigned note that was apparently written by a pregnant woman to her unborn child.

Although the note was ambiguous, the implication was that the woman chose to have an abortion.

Norgaard scanned and enlarged the note without changing the content or the handwriting and selected key phrases to be embroidered on a white linen dress.

The result is a three-dimensional piece of fabric art that captures the unknown woman's conflict and prompts a dialogue about abortion.

Norgaard often creates a series of works, making several pieces with the same theme or technique.

One series was in response to Hurricane Katrina.

It consisted of several red crosses that were disconnected from their background "to tell you that it wasn't working," Norgaard said.

Hurricane Katrina

In that case, she strove to be provocative.

"You don't have to like art, but I think you need to be affected by it," she said.

Norgaard does not do everything herself anymore.

She no longer has the strength to dye her own yarn.

But she still has a full head of artistic steam.

"I like to experiment with things," she said.

"I intend to keep pushing myself to create and use the media that is the best way to express whatever idea comes up."


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 29. 2010 11:31PM
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